Using three decades of data to save turtles

Champaign, IL – Protecting and restoring habitats are the most important steps that can be undertaken to protect turtle populations into the future according to a pair of recent papers analyzing 3 decades of data.

The Spotted Turtle, Clemmys guttata, is a small semi-aquatic turtle that inhabits sedge meadow, cattail marsh, wet-mesic prairie, and dolomite prairie in Illinois. It is protected as an endangered species in Illinois, which is at the western edge of its range. The two known populations in Illinois have been the focus of mark-recapture studies since 1988.

Recent analysis found that Spotted Turtle populations are limited by the amount of available habitat, suggesting that management efforts should focus on increasing suitable habitat. Control of cattails (Typha sp.) and restoration of sedges would increase the amount of available habitat.

Adults have a higher survival rate than younger turtles. Predators including raccoons and muskrats can eradicate eggs and juvenile turtles. While caging nests and headstarting juveniles will help the younger turtles, controlling predator populations could benefit all age classes.

Feng, C.Y.; Ross, J.P.; Mauger, D.; Dreslik, M.J. A Long-Term Demographic Analysis of Spotted Turtles (Clemmys guttata) in Illinois Using Matrix Models. Diversity. 2019, 11, 226. doi:10.3390/d11120226

Feng, C.Y.; Mauger, D.; Ross, J.P.; Dreslik, M.J. Size and Structure of Two Populations of Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) at Its Western Range Limit. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 14(3):648–658

 

Spotted, Blanding’s, and Wood turtle ​ ​conservation symposium

PACE Lab head Michael Dreslik and herpetologist Jason Ross presented at the 2019 Spotted, Blanding’s, and Wood turtle conservation symposium held in West Virginia this November.

http://www.americanturtles.org/2019symposium.html

Population Viability Analysis and the Role of Head-starting for a northern Illinois Blanding’s Turtle Population

Rapid Demographic Assessments for Freshwater Turtles: Filling in Data Deficiencies

Radio telemetry used to improve environmental DNA use

Alligator Snapping Turtle

Environmental DNA (eDNA) is an emerging tool used to detect rare and difficult to detect species. A recent study by INHS PACE Lab herpetologists used radio telemetry to evaluate and improve the efficiency of this technique.

As part of a species reintroduction program, hatchling Alligator Snapping Turtles reared in captivity were tracked using radio telemetry to assess their survival. This work provided an ideal system for evaluating the efficacy and limitations of using eDNA to detect a bottom dwelling riverine turtle. At each radio location, water samples were collected as well as upstream and downstream of the turtle.

The researchers found that eDNA can be used to detect a benthic turtle species but that detection can be diminished by UV exposure from open canopy. This study shows the importance of continuing to use traditional methods such as radio telemetry to better understand the dynamics of eDNA in the environment.

 

Read the complete paper in Environmental DNA

White Cedar project presented at Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands Symposium

Sara Johnson, of the Molano-Flores lab at the Illinois Natural History Survey, presented a poster and lightning talk about Illinois Tollway funded research on the Effects of Soluble Salt on the Germination of Thuja occidentalis at the Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands Symposium in Maumee Bay, Ohio last week. This conference was the first symposium hosted by Audubon Great Lakes in partnership with the Great Lakes Coastal Assembly and Great Lakes Commission. Sara is a student representative for the North Central Chapter of the Society of Wetland Scientists and acts as Treasurer for the Student Chapter of the society at UIUC.

PaCE Lab at the Illinois State Fair

Smokey Bear using snake tongs

Members of the PaCE Lab exhibited in Conservation World at the 2019 Illinois State Fair, providing information and education to over 500 visitors. In addition to displays about the research being done by the group, visitors were able to try their hand at using actual field equipment used by scientists in their daily work.

The Illinois Bat Conservation Program had a mist net deployed where visitors could untangle, identify, and measure bats, all while wearing leather gloves.

The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation group had snake tongs, hooks, calipers, and radio telemetry equipment available for visitors to try to wrangle snakes into a snake bag, measure turtles, or track a hidden turtle.

Other activities included Build-a-Bug, where people can assemble the arthropod of their dreams (or nightmares) from a variety of general and specialized appendages, Wheel of Migration, about the risks migratory birds face, and locating PIT-tagged animals.

Smokey Bear using snake tongs
Gray Treefrog picked the right tent to visit
Wheel of Migration
Build a Bug
Vin Vasive wrangling a snake with a hook
Build-a-Bug

New Publication on Spacial Ecology of Softshell Turtles

Read the complete article at https://www.mdpi.com/1424-2818/11/8/124:

Ross, J.P.; Bluett, R.D.; Dreslik, M.J. Movement and Home Range of the Smooth Softshell Turtle (Apalone mutica): Spatial Ecology of a River Specialist. Diversity 2019, 11, 124.

A new paper by INHS PACE Lab herpetologists examined the movement of the state listed Smooth Softshell Turtle, Apalone mutica, a riverine species. Spatial ecological information is necessary to guide the conservation efforts of river turtles. Turtles were radio tracked and found to move on average 142 m per day, but moved more when water was high or streams were larger. In most situations, females moved greater distances than males. This work will guide future studies of riverine species.

UBAP Ornithologist Rahlin receives Kushlan Research Award

Black-crowned Night Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron

UBAP Ornithologist Anastasia Rahlin received the Kushlan Research Award  from the Waterbird Society to assist her research project entitled “Using environmental DNA sampling to determine heron and bittern occupancy in western and northern Michigan: a metagenomics approach.”

This work will improve knowledge of the ranges and population sizes of Black-crowned Night Herons, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, American Bitterns, and Least Bitterns and will inform conservation and management decisions for these rare and declining wetland birds.

 

9 days, 3 conferences, 8 talks, 2 posters

It’s been a busy week of sharing science for members of the PACE lab.

The Chicago Wilderness Wildlife Committee Meeting was held at Lincoln Park Zoo on February 19th:

 

Tara Hohoff presented “The status of Illinois bats five years after confirmation of white-nose syndrome,” using data from her work with the Illinois Bat Conservation Program and the Urban Biotic Assessment Program monitoring for the Illinois Tollway.

 

Joshua Sherwood presented “Assessing the distribution and habitat of Iowa Darters (Etheostoma exile) in Illinois,” with co-authors Andrew Stites, Jeremy Tiemann, and Michael Dreslik. This work changed the way people look for the Iowa Darter.

 

Jason Robinson presented “Patterns of abundance and co-occurrence of bumblebees associated with the Rusty Patched bumblebee.” RPBB is a federally protected species found in northeastern Illinois that has experienced a decline in its range.

 

Jason Ross presented “Demographic influence of head-starting on a Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) population in DuPage County, Illinois,” with co-author Michael Dreslik, discussing what amount of head-starting is needed to keep this population viable

 

The  2019 Wild Things Conference was held in Rosemont on February 23rd:

Tara Hohoff, representing the Illinois Bat Conservation Program, presented a poster “Year Three of the Illinois Bat Conservation Program.”

Anastasia Rahlin co-presented “Secretive Marsh Birds in the Big City.” with Audubon collaborator Stephanie Beilke on their ongoing work using playback to detect 17 focal wetland bird species in northeast Illinois and southeast Indiana. Soras were the most commonly detected species which was surprising/unexpected since Marsh Wrens and Swamp Sparrows are expected to be more common, and Little Blue Herons and Yellow-headed Blackbirds were the least detected which was pretty expected due to their declines. Future directions include creating species-specific occupancy models to better understand how our focal species respond to urbanization and presence of different wetland types at three different spatial scales.

Josh Sherwood presented “Current status of Bigeye Chub (Hybopsis amblops) in Illinois”.

Sarah Douglass presented “A preliminary analysis of mussel population dynamics in the Kishwaukee River.”

Jeremy Tiemann presented “Pulling the plug – Results of the fish and mussel salvage following the removal of the Danville Dam on the Vermilion River.”

Andy Stites presented a poster “Fecundity estimates of the Gravel Chub Erimystax x-punctatus