INHS PaCE Lab at Emydine Conservation Symposium

Dr. Dreslik, Rose Arnold, Emily Asche, Andrea Colton, and Izabelle Jaquet presented at the Emydine Conservation Symposium at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania July 10th-12th, 2023.


Conservation Guidance, Status, Prioritization, and Implementation for the Recovery of the Spotted Turtle, Clemmys gutatta, in Illinois

Michael J. Dreslik*,

The Spotted Turtle (Clemmys gutatta) has always been a rare species in Illinois and was once thought extirpated. Its historical distribution likely encompassed the former interdunal wetlands along Lake Michigan, now occupied by the greater Chicago metropolitan region. Few populations remained on the landscape post- settlement, and only two remain extant, with one exhibiting severe decline. As such, the Spotted Turtle is protected as an endangered species. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has instituted a new framework for species conservation consisting of three primary works, a Species Guidance Document, Status Assessment, and Conservation Implementation Plan. In addition to this effort, an Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Strategy was developed using expert solicitation to prioritize conservation actions and delineate threats. Using the information available, I will briefly cover where we are with the recovery of the Spotted Turtle in Illinois.

Population Structure of Three Isolated Northern Illinois Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) Populations

Rose A. Arnold*, Emily A. Asche, Michael J. Dreslik,

The Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) is declining range-wide due to synergistic threats associated with habitat fragmentation, loss, and degradation. In Northern Illinois, Blanding’s Turtle populations are often isolated in an urbanized landscape with little chance for interpopulation migration. Thus, it is imperative to monitor populations inhabiting isolated patches because of risks from demographic and environmental stochasticity due to small population dynamics. By collecting data on sex, stage, and morphometrics on all captured individuals, our study will determine if concerning patterns or biases in the size, sex, or stage structure exist in three northeastern Illinois populations. For example, biased sex ratios toward adult males could indicate decreased adult female abundance and impact population growth through depressed recruitment rates. Additionally, a skewed stage structure toward juveniles could indicate decreased adult abundance from unusually low adult survivorship. Our results could aid regional wildlife managers by signaling potential threats to the demography of small, isolated populations.

Reducing the Risk of Prescribed Burns on Ornate Box Turtles (Terrapene Ornata) in Illinois

Izabelle S. Jaquet*, Devin A. Edmonds, Andrea L. Colton, Ethan J. Kessler,  Michael J. Dreslik

Native prairie ecosystems and associated herpetofauna have significantly declined throughout the 21st century. Once common throughout Midwest prairies and grasslands, the Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata) is of conservation concern in multiple states, including Illinois. Notable threats to population persistence include road mortality, illegal harvesting, and increased predation from mesopredators. Unfortunately, prescribed burns present an additional threat. While necessary, there is an increased risk of harming Ornate Box Turtles if burns are conducted between spring emergence and the beginning of winter dormancy. The loss of even a few individuals can drastically reduce population viability. To better understand the timing of dormancy, we used radiotelemetry to monitor 26 Ornate Box Turtles across three Illinois sites. We also collected shell and soil temperatures with data loggers to determine when and under what conditions turtles are at risk from burns. By combining radiotelemetry observations with shell temperature data, we determined when turtles were above ground. We then created a model predicting emergence based on environmental variables, such as air temperature, precipitation, and time of year. The best model to predict above ground activity considered the interaction of day of year and current air temperature. Our results can aid land managers and ecologists in determining the best time to conduct prescribed burns in Ornate Box Turtle habitat.

Baseline Energetic Requirements of Ornate Box Turtles (Terrapene ornata)

Andrea L. Colton*, Michael J. Dreslik,

Increasing ambient temperatures due to climate change may lead to altered behaviors as turtles attempt to regulate internal body temperatures. Increased efforts to maintain temperatures may result in energetic tradeoffs, leading to reduced individual fitness and, thus, population abundance. Estimation of resting metabolic rates for turtles affords calculation of baseline energetic requirements and the potential to predict costs associated with warming landscapes. Using flow-through respirometry, we will determine the resting metabolic rates (RMRs) of adult Ornate Box Turtles (Terrapene ornata) across a temperature gradient to provide information on energetic costs. The baseline estimates will then be used to determine the annual RMR costs on the landscape.

Population Structure of the Western Pond Turtle (Actinemys spp.) Across Twelve Military Installations in California

Emily Asche*,  Matthew I. Parry, Thomas S. B. Akre, Robert Lovich,  Michael J. Dreslik

Western Pond Turtle (Actinemys spp.) populations are currently threatened with habitat loss, predation, and shell disease. The synergies among threats have caused severe population declines whereby they are an endangered species in Washington, a sensitive species in Oregon, and a species of special concern in California. It is imperative to investigate their status in California to determine how prevalent threats are and what level of conservation action needs to be taken to avoid declines. We examined the population structure of the Western Pond Turtle populations at twelve military installations across California through sampling in one-week bouts using 50 aquatic traps at one visit per base. We recorded the body size, life stage, and sex of all individuals. Our study is intended to represent a first pass at determining if there are any immediate conservation concerns, such as biases in stage or sex ratios and population size structure.

We’re Hiring an Aquatic Ecologist

The Illinois Natural History Survey Population and Community Ecology Lab is seeking an Aquatic Ecologist to conduct basic and applied research assisting with ongoing surveys for aquatic amphibians and reptiles, freshwater mollusks, and fishes. This position will be based in Champaign, Illinois. See more or apply



Restored meadows can support plenty of prey for Eastern Massasauga

Current PaCE Lab graduate student Zander Perelman had two papers published recently from his M.Sc. research on Eastern Massasaugas in Pennsylvania.

The first paper reported on the prey community at a restored meadow in western Pennsylvania.

Often, restoration projects are focused on removing unwanted vegetation and re-establishing the plant community with the notion that “if you build it, they will come.”

In 2012, habitat restoration began at a well studied Eastern Massasauga site that had deteriorated through forest encroachment and natural succession. Restoration and follow up active management removed the canopy cover and returned it to a grassy meadow.

In 2021, to assess whether restoration efforts had created suitable habitat to supports prey species suitable for EMRs, Perelman and his colleagues conducted surveys of terrestrial vertebrates at the site using drift fences, cover objects, funnel traps, Sherman live traps, and active searches. Over 4 months they caught 9 species of amphibian, 10 species of reptile, and 11 species of mammal, for a total of 656 vertebrates. Their samples included 12 species documented as Eastern Massasauga prey items, many in high numbers.

Based upon their sampling they determined that the vertebrate community in the restored meadow habitat may provide the resident EMR population with a prey base that can support reproduction and sustainable population growth.

The second paper analyzed and formally described combat rituals between two male Eastern Massasaugas in the presence of a radio-implanted female. While tracking a gravid female, a male was observed nearby. Two days later, a second male was observed near the pair and Perelman was able to record 17 minutes of male-male combat.

This video provided the first formal analysis of these behaviors of male Eastern Massasaugas in the wild. The snakes spent much of their time in a raised and engaged position (RE), but also were intertwined for over a minute, attempted to top each other, and tongue flicked. The snake who ultimately copulated with the female appeared to be more persistent and engaged in the combat and perhaps most importantly, was more successful in topping his opponent..

Read the full papers:

Perelman, Zander E. ,  William I. Lutterschmidt, and Howard K. Reinert. 2022. Community Structure of Terrestrial Vertebrates in a Restored Meadow Habitat in Pennsylvania: Assessing the Potential Prey Base for Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes. Northeastern Naturalist,Volume 29, Issue 3 (2022): 370–381

Perelman, Zander E. ,  William I. Lutterschmidt, and Howard K. Reinert. 2022. A behavioral analysis of male-male combat in the Eastern Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus). Herpetological Review: 53(3): 381-384

Contact Zander Perelman for more information

Follow our lab to keep with additional Eastern Massasauga research

Where do those pet frogs come from?

  • red and black frog
    Ranitomeya reticulata: Red-backed Poison Frog

Photos by Devin Edmonds

PACE Lab doctoral student Devin Edmonds investigated the origins of poison frogs in the pet trade, tracking down ethical and illegal sources. The results of his study were published in Herpetological Review.

Read the full story here!

Massasauga hibernacula at Carlyle Lake are genetically distinct units

Genetic analysis shows that the Eastern Massasauga hibernacula at Carlyle Lake are genetically distinct units.

Once found across the northern two-thirds of Illinois, populations of the Eastern Massasauga have declined, with only one known population remaining in Illinois. Our long term studies have found the top four sources of mortality to include automobiles, predation, management related mortality (prescribed burns, mowing, etc), and disease. Our current study indicates that efforts to address these ecological threats may not be enough to save this imperiled species.

The area under what is now known as Carlyle Lake was a floodplain valley known as Boulder Bottoms. The creation of Carlyle Lake in the 1960s flooded this area, separating habitats on the the east and west sides of the Kaskaskia River, pushing wildlife, including the Eastern Massasauga, to the edges between the lake and agricultural fields.  These bands of habitat are separated by the lake, paved roads, agriculture, and urbanization, potentially limiting migration and gene flow between patches.

Our current study looked at 327 genetic samples collected between 1999 and 2015 from individuals at 9 hibernacula across 3 study areas at Carlyle Lake. Study sites separated by up to 5 km had limited gene flow, as did hibernacula separated by a few hundred meters. This restriction of gene flow increases the vulnerability of these already imperiled populations.

Our study indicates that conservation and recovery efforts need to consider genetic rescue efforts in addition to reduction of ecological threats. Such efforts may include translocations and captive rearing to reduce the impacts of inbreeding depression and genetic drift. Even short distance translocations between the different study areas at Carlyle Lake could help restore  gene flow impeded by contemporary human created fragmentation.

Read the paper at PLOS One

Anthonysamy, Whitney J.B., Michael J. Dreslik, Sarah J. Baker, Mark A. Davis, Marlis R. Douglas, Michael E. Douglas, and Christopher A. Phillips. 2022. Limited gene flow and pronounced population genetic structure of Eastern Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) in a Midwestern prairie remnant. PLOS ONE:

    2021 Midwest PARC conference

    The INHS Population and Community Ecology Lab had four posters at the 2021 Midwest Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Virtual Conference, October 1-2, 2021.


    Colton, Andrea L., E. L. Sunnucks, and M. J. Dreslik. Community Structure of Freshwater Turtles in Northeastern Illinois Marshes.



    Edmonds, Devin A., A. Colton, E. Sunnucks, I. Jaquet, and M. J. Dreslik. Timing of prescribed burns to avoid Ornate Box Turtles (Terrapene ornata).


    Lorenzen, Brock C., A. R. Kuhns, J. A. Crawford, C. A. Phillips, and M. J. Dreslik. Halting the Decline of a Jefferson Salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum) population: A Conservation Success Story.


    Predicted distribution of kirtland's snake in illinoisStewart, Tyler M., A. R. Kuhns, J. A. Crawford, C. A. Phillips, and M. J. Dreslik. Predicted Distribution of Kirtland’s Snake (Clonophis kirtlandii) in Illinois.

    Congratulations to M.S. student Tyler Stewart who won the Brodman Student Award for excellence in presenting a poster!

    2021 NRES Symposium

    PACE Lab graduate students presented at the Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences Symposium, April 17th, 2021.

      • Alma C. Schrage presented “Bumble Bee Detection and Occupancy in Northern Illinois” Click for more info
      • Devin Edmonds presented “Informing the Mantella cowanii Conservation Action Plan” Click for more info
      • Anastasia Rahlin presented “Spatial and temporal drivers of marsh bird occupancy in an urbanized matrix” Click for more info
      • Tyler Stewart presented “Distribution and Detection Probability for Kirtland’s Snake (Clonophis kirtlandii)” Click for more info

    New paper on habitat restoration impacts on box turtles

    Eastern Box Turtle growth is influenced by environmental conditions which in turn can be influenced by vegetative structure. Removal of Autumn Olive and Russian Olive at a site in Illinois occurred during a 16 year mark-recapture study allowing us to analyze impacts of removal on the growth of turtles. The data showed that removing the invasive plants may not negatively impact the growth of the turtles and that growth is variable by individual. This is attributed to reptile growth being influenced by more than just environmental conditions, including genetics.

    Read the paper: Edmonds, D., A.R. Kuhns, and M.J. Dreslik. 2020. Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) growth and the impacts of invasive vegetation removal. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 15(3):588–596.