UF study shows turtle species still suffering from past harvesting

By on April 10th, 2013
This large female northern map turtle, Graptemys geographica, was captured in the North Fork of White River in Ozark County, Missouri in 2004. (Amber Pitt)

This large female northern map turtle was captured in the North Fork of White River in Ozark County, Missouri in 2004. (Amber Pitt, courtesy of UF News Bureau)

In Ozark County, Mo., a three-mile stretch of the White River once served as a home for the northern map turtle. The species swirled through the free-flowing stream and basked in the sun on the river bank.

After locals began reporting people harvesting the reptiles for food between the 1960s and 1980s, its population was devastated.

Max Nickerson, herpetology curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, studied the species in 1969, snorkeling alongside the creatures. He tagged them and recorded them with Amber Pitt, a a Clemson University postdoctoral research fellow who studied river turtles as a University of Florida graduate student.

When Nickerson and Pitt returned more than a decade later, about 50 percent of the reptiles were nowhere to be found.

“We knew immediately in 1980 when we got into the river that something was wrong,” Nickerson said.

There was a substantially smaller amount of females and small turtles, Nickerson said, which suggested that within just 12 years of research, turtle harvesting had caused considerable population damage.

“The males, a good sized one is 120 grams,” Nickerson said. “The females, a good sized one is 1,200 grams, so someone harvesting for food is not going to harvest the males.”

Nickerson and Pitt returned to the site in 2004 to continue their research and see if the population had bounced back, but the damage was deemed irreversible.

Though a different species, the red-eared slider, seemed to have increased its population within that area of the river, the northern map turtles’ population in the area remained meager.

The 2004 examination of the river also revealed apparent habitat degradation over the years, with increased siltation, sedimentation and algal blooms in the area. Human recreation, which increased in the area since the 1980 study, can cause this damage.

Aside from river and water damage, swimmers and boaters can also scare the turtles, which prevents them from basking as much as they healthily should.

“This was an entire community that we were looking at,” Nickerson said. “(The) map turtle is threatened in most of its range, and all of the turtles within the genus are protected to some extent.”

Nickerson and Pitt published the study on Sept. 14 in Volume three of Copeia, a publication pertaining to fish, reptiles and amphibians.

This entry was posted in Environment and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

More Stories in Environment

Microbeads, plastic fragments found in foaming soaps and other hygiene products, pose a threat to waterways and marine life once they are washed down the drain.

Microbeads In Everyday Products Damages Ecosystems

Microbeads, like the ones found in common toothpastes and facial products, are damaging the environment more than many people know. The particles in these beads can enter oceans and rivers, disrupting marine life and causing damage to the ecosystem.

Jim Karels, director of the Florida Forest Service, recently received an award from the National Association of State Foresters for his success in doing prescribed burns in Florida.

State Forester Recognized For National Impact

A Florida forester received a national award for fire prevention. He calls prescribed burns the “single most important” land management tool in the state.

At the Alachua County Materials Recovery Facility, workers find many people are recycling aseptic containers, like a soymilk carton, into the wrong recycling bin. “We do take those, but they go in your blue bin, or in your co-mingle bin, with all the other containers,” said Jeff Klugh, recycling program coordinator at the Alachua County Public Works Waste Management Division. “They are sorted as a container, not as a paper product.”

Alachua County Ranks Seventh Statewide In Successful Recycling

Contamination in recycling has lead to deficit for the national recycling industry. Alachua County has managed to remain successful due to their dual stream system.

Bee Keeper

Florida Celebrates National Honey Month, Increases Production And Profit

The month of September is National Honey Month, which marks the end of honey collection for most beekeepers across America. Florida consistently ranks top five for honey production in the country and is seeing an increase in the number of bee colonies in the past 8 years. As a result, the state generates a $13 million annual honey profit.

The Castillo de San Marcos National Monument is a treasure that could be affected by rising sea levels.

Project Proposal To Study Effects of Rising Sea Levels In St. Augustine

The new project proposal would go into effect Oct. 1, if approved. Researchers hope to help preserve St. Augustine by highlighting vulnerable areas in infrastructure so the city is better prepared for rising sea levels.

Thank you for your support

WUFT depends on the support of our community — people like you — to help us continue to provide quality programming to North Central Florida.
Become a Sustainer
I want to support FM 89.1/NPR
I want to support Florida's 5/PBS
Donate a Vehicle
Underwriting Payments