A new paradigm for the conservation of turtles
Turtles are more highly threatened with extinction than many other vertebrate groups, and numerous species will likely become extinct in the next decades. Failure to conserve the world’s remaining turtle populations is partially due to the ineffectiveness of current conservation strategies. A new paradigm is needed for the conservation of turtles, one which maintains the integrity of the turtle life cycle as well as the habitats and ecosystems in which it perpetuates, at biologically-relevant geographic and temporal scales. The purpose of my study is to determine the habitat- and ecosystem-based drivers of variability in population size, structure, and health and to identify the suite of habitat characteristics which define optimal habitat for completion of the life cycle. These analyses will be used identify the processes influencing population trajectory and therefore to construct a new paradigm for the conservation of turtles. This study utilizes the western pond turtle (Emys marmorata, Emys pallida) as a model species at five distinct sites in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. For each population, I am collecting population-level demographic, sound communication, behavior, and genetic diversity data sets, individual-level movement and health data sets, as well as site-specific acoustic habitat, water quality, land cover, community composition, geological composition, historical and current land use, anthropogenic activity, and climate data sets.
This larger project is the direct result of several smaller, more specific studies:
- Demography and movement ecology of western pond turtles: This study is being conducted in collaboration with the Field Conservation Facility of Stanford University, with funding provided by the Mellon Grant and the Field Conservation Facility.
- Genetic diversity of western pond turtles in the San Francisco Bay Area: This study is being conducted with funding from CuriOdyssey Conservation and Research Project Funding 2015.
- Assessing the impact of environmental variation on freshwater turtle health and the role of turtles as indicators of ecosystem health: This study will be conducted with funding from CuriOdyssey Conservation and Research Project Funding 2016.
- Behavior and sound communication of western pond turtles: This study is and has been conducted in partnership with several local zoos, including CuriOdyssey, Micke Grove Zoo, and the San Francisco Zoo.
Results will aid in the regional conservation of the western pond turtle, a California Species of Special Concern whose study has been neglected in the San Francisco Bay Area.