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Spatial relationships of the desert box turtle (Terrapene ornata luteola) captured at a stock tank in Southeastern Arizona

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I radiotracked Desert Box Turtles (Terrapene ornata luteola) captured at a stock tank in desert grassland habitat in southeastern Arizona from 2001-2003. Individual turtles lived in well-defined 95% MCP home ranges, which included the stock tank and overlapped with home ranges of other turtles. Turtles moved 135 m daily in home ranges averaging 9.8 ha and 469 m across greatest axis. Turtles typically returned to the burrow from which they began their daily movements. There were no sexual differences in daily movement or home range size, nor were there annual differences in daily movement among individuals. Seven of 11 turtles made temporary long distance movements averaging 1,066 m away from their home ranges. Six of 11 turtles exhibited significant directionality in their movements relative to the stock tank. Terrapene o. luteola is a species of conservation concern in Arizona. The spatial information presented in this paper can assist science-based management decisions because it contributes to a better understanding of the core habitat requirements of T. o. luteola.
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Herpetological Conservation and Biology 9(1):156162.
Submitted: 7 December 2013; Accepted: 1 March 2014; Published: 13 July 2014.
Department of Biology, Box 12251, Harding University, Searcy, Arkansas 72143, USA, e-mail:
Abstract.—I radiotracked Desert Box Turtles (Terrapene ornata luteola) captured at a stock tank in desert grassland
habitat in southeastern Arizona from 2001-2003. Individual turtles lived in well-defined 95% MCP home ranges, which
included the stock tank and overlapped with home ranges of other turtles. Turtles moved 135 m daily in home ranges
averaging 9.8 ha and 469 m across greatest axis. Turtles typically returned to the burrow from which they began their
daily movements. There were no sexual differences in daily movement or home range size, nor were there annual
differences in daily movement among individuals. Seven of 11 turtles made temporary long distance movements
averaging 1,066 m away from their home ranges. Six of 11 turtles exhibited significant directionality in their movements
relative to the stock tank. Terrapene o. luteola is a species of conservation concern in Arizona. The spatial information
presented in this paper can assist science-based management decisions because it contributes to a better understanding of
the core habitat requirements of T. o. luteola.
Key Words.—Box Turtle; conservation; core area; directionality; home range; migration; movement; Terrapene ornata luteola
Terrapene ornata is a widely distributed terrestrial
turtle ranging from Indiana to western Arkansas and
Louisiana west to South Dakota, Colorado, southeastern
Arizona, and northern Mexico (Legler 1960; Dodd
2001). The species is commonly recognized to be
comprised of two subspecies (questioned by Martin et al.
2013). In the U.S., the Ornate Box Turtle (T. o. ornata)
is the more widely-distributed form found in the central
plains from South Dakota to southern Texas whereas the
Desert Box Turtle (Terrapene o. luteola) is confined to
the arid desert-grasslands of western and central New
Mexico and southeastern Arizona (Legler 1960; Dodd
2001). Whereas extensive field studies of T. o. ornata
populations in Kansas (Legler 1960; Metcalf and
Metcalf 1970), Texas (Blair 1976), Wisconsin (Doroff
and Keith 1990), Nebraska (Converse et al. 2002), and
Iowa (Bernstein et al. 2007) have been reported over the
last fifty years, field studies of T. o. luteola are limited to
one population in New Mexico (Nieuwolt 1996;
Germano and Nieuwolt-Dacanay 1999) and one
population in Arizona (David Hall and Robert Steidl.
2003, unpubl. report; Plummer 2003, 2004). Because T.
o. luteola is a species of conservation concern in Arizona
(Hall and Steidl, unpubl. report), knowledge of its core
area requirements, including the extent and use of space,
is needed to assist possible management decisions
(Semlitsch and Bodie 2003; Congdon et al. 2011).
Terrapene spp. typically live in well-defined, variable-
sized home ranges to which they attempt to return if
displaced either accidently or after making long distance
movements due to nesting, overwintering, or exploration
(Dodd 2001). The extent to which T. ornata adheres to
this general pattern of space use at its southwestern
range margin is poorly known. The primary goal of this
study is to describe the use of space by individual T. o.
luteola in an apparent declining and poorly known
population in southeastern Arizona.
The study area was active ranchland located in the
semi-arid grasslands of the Sulphur Springs Valley, 44
km SE of Willcox, Cochise County, Arizona at 1,400 m
elevation. Vegetation consisted mainly of grasses and
shrubs. Grasses included Love Grass (Eragrostis), Red
Three-awn Aristida), Tabosa (Pleuraphis), Gramma
(Bouteloua), Vine Mesquite (Panicum), and Sacaton
(Sporobolus). Shrubs included Mesquite (Prosopis),
Burro Weed (Isocoma), Catclaw (Acacia), and Russian
Thistle (Salsola). Other plants include Mormon Tea
(Ephedra), Yucca (Yucca), and Prickly Pear (Opuntia).
Mounds of Bannertail Kangaroo Rats (Dipodomys
spectabilis) were conspicuous landscape features and
mound burrows served as the primary subterranean
retreat for T. o. luteola. Most of the annual activity of T.
o. luteola at the site occurs in a distinct 8–12 wk summer
monsoon beginning in early July in which over 50% of
the 31-cm annual rainfall occurs. However, monsoon
rainfall is far from being uniformly distributed in space
or time. Monsoon showers are typically small in
diameter and move about in an apparent unpredictable
and wandering fashion such that some areas receive
abundant rainfall while nearby areas receive no rain
(Michael Plummer, pers. obs.).
Copyright ©2013. Michael Plummer. All Rights Reserved.
Herpetological Conservation and Biology
I initially captured all turtles by hand at an approx.
0.1-ha stock tank designated Turtle Tank (TT; Fig. 1). I
used binoculars to search for turtles visiting TT each day
during the typical 3-h morning surface activity period of
T. o. luteola at this site (0600–0900; Plummer 2003).
After a brief period of observation, I captured and
marked each turtle individually by filing a unique
combination of notches in the marginal scutes. I
attached a Model SM1 (AVM Instrument Company,
Ltd., Colfax, California, USA) radiotransmitter to the
posterior-most marginal scutes of 13 turtles with
stainless steel wire (Plummer 2003). Transmitter masses
were well below the recommended 10% of body mass
for reptiles.
I began to systematically observe and mark turtles at
TT on 1 August 2000. I began attaching transmitters on
19 July 2001 and tracked turtles from 19 July - 9
October 2001 and 6 July - 12 September 2002.
Transmitters remained on individual turtles for the
duration of the study. I captured each turtle at the
beginning of each field season to either replace the
transmitter battery (2001 and 2002) or to remove the
transmitter and release the turtle at the termination of the
study (1 August 2003). While tracking, I made
occasional focal observations through binoculars on the
behavior of turtles during their movements.
I used Biotas™ version 1.03.1a (Ecological Software
Solutions LLC, Hegymagas, Hungary) to plot telemetry
relocations and calculate 95% Minimum Convex
Polygon (MCP) home ranges for turtles with at least 20
telemetry relocations. I also used Biotas™ to measure
the longest axis of home ranges and to identify sojourns
as temporary movements that exceeded the length of the
greatest home range axis beyond the home range
boundary. I used Google Earth
(Google Inc., Mountain View, California, USA) to
generate an aerial photograph of the study area, to
determine compass headings, and to measure distances
(meters) on the image with the ruler tool. I checked the
data for normality and equality of variances and used
appropriate parametric (t-tests) and non-parametric
(Mann-Whitney and Wilcoxon) tests with SYSTAT 13
(SYSTAT Software, Inc., Chicago, Illinois, USA). I
used Oriana version 4.02 (Kovach Computing Services,
Pentraeth, Isle of Anglesey, Wales, U.K.) for circular
statistical analysis (Rayleigh test) to determine if
telemetry relocations were directional relative to TT. I
calculated mean compass headings for turtles that
demonstrated significant directionality. Alpha was set at
0.05 for all tests. Descriptive statistics are presented
as mean ± SE.
I marked 39 individual turtles that visited TT and
recaptured them a total of 75 times over four years.
Eighteen turtles were observed visiting TT in 2000, 17 in
2001, 12 in 2002, and 17 in 2003. The number of turtles
FIGURE 1. Stock tank in Cochise County, Arizona where turtles were initially collected from 2000-2002. The green ring indicates a higher
previous water level.
Plummer.—Spatial Relationships of Desert Box Turtles in Arizona.
seen at TT per day ranged from 1–4. Duration of TT
visits averaged 9 ± 1.5 min (range 2–17 min). Behaviors
at TT consisted of drinking, soaking, and foraging along
the shoreline. Turtles were wary when approaching TT
and quickly retreated if they detected my presence.
A total of 13 turtles were tracked over 1–2 years, but
two transmitters failed early during the course of the
study. As a result, movement analyses were based on
data from 11 turtles (five males; six females) each with
at least 20 telemetry fixes (Table 1). The majority of
turtle movements were in well-defined overlapping 95%
MCP home ranges that were highly variable in size and
averaged 9.8 ± 2.63 ha (range 3.6–34.6 ha; CV = 89%)
in area and 469 ± 49.0 m (range 296–821 m; CV = 35%)
in the longest axis (Table 1). Home ranges of 10 turtles
included TT proper; the 95% MCP home range of the
turtle was within 150 m of TT (Fig. 2A). Home
range area did not differ between the sexes (U = 23.0, df
= 1, P = 0.140) nor between turtles tracked two years
(11.9 ± 3.98 ha) compared to turtles tracked one year
(6.1 ± 0.91 ha; U = 9.00; df = 1, P = 0.345). Daily
movement averaged 135 ± 13.6 m and did not differ
between years (paired t = 1.52, df = 21, P = 0.18) or
sexes (t = 0.762, df = 9, P = 0.47).
Long-distance movements beyond the turtles’ home
ranges averaged 1,066 m (SD = 142 m, min/max =
431/1,485 m) and were made within a single day by
seven individuals (three males; four females; Table 1).
The average long distance one day sojourn was eight
times the distance of the overall average daily
movement. Sojourn length did not differ between the
sexes (t = 0.50; df = 5, P = 0.64). The path taken by one
female during a sojourn exhibited minimal tortuosity and
often followed portions of cattle paths. Her emigration
and immigration paths were essentially identical. She
gained > 5% in body mass during her sojourn.
The SE quadrant around TT contained the fewest fixes
pooled for all turtles (SE = 9.3%; NE = 34.5%; SW =
38.0%; NW = 18.2%). Six of 11 turtles (three males;
three females) exhibited significant directionality
relative to TT (Table 1) but only one turtle (AKW) had a
mean compass heading in the SE quadrant (Table 1; Fig.
2B). The SE quadrant contained a lower-lying wash,
several human structures, disturbed areas associated with
an old corral, and a junction of primitive dirt roads
within approx. 600 m of TT (Fig. 2C).
A portion of the home ranges of 10 of 11 radiotracked
turtles captured at TT encompassed TT, whereas the 11
turtle maintained a home range near TT. Assuming the
remaining 28 turtles observed at TT but not radiotracked
also maintained home ranges at TT, a minimum of 39
turtles regularly used TT. Because stock tanks are
artificial human structures, the relationship between
turtles and TT is likely a facultative response of turtles
living in a hot, semiarid environment in which most of
the sparse annual rainfall is restricted to a few weeks of
the year.
Several factors could affect home range size at the
study area including the presence or absence of free
water. For example, the 95% MCP home ranges of T. o.
luteola in a nearby study measured 9 ha for turtles
having home ranges within 2 km of a permanent water
source but only 2.8 ha when home ranges were distant
from a permanent water source (Hall and Steidl, unpubl.
report). The small home ranges distant from a water
source are comparable in area to the MCP home ranges
of T. o. luteola in a study located 350 km NE of TT on
the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico
(1.6 ha; Nieuwolt 1996). Whether Nieuwolt’s (1996)
study site contained a permanent water source is
unknown but an examination of that study site on
Google Earth (1996 imagery) revealed the nearest stock
tank to be approx. 1,200 m outside the study site
TABLE 1. Movement characteristics of five male and six female Desert Box Turtles (Terrapene ornata luteola) in desert grassland habitat in SE
Arizona and the results of Rayleigh tests of random distribution relative to Turtle Tank (TT) from 2000–2003. Shown are 95% Minimum
Convex Polygon home ranges, maximum length of MCP home ranges, mean daily movement, and temporary movements outside of MCP home
ranges (sojourns). Mean compass headings for turtles showing significant directionality are relative to the center of TT.
ID Sex
No. Years
Max HR
Axis (m)
AMN M 66 2 11.8 574 146 1,179 - 1.24 0.289
AJW M 64 2 34.6 821 238 977 308 7.56 < 0.001
AKM M 58 2 8.3 380 105 - - 0.43 0.648
ALU M 46 2 7.4 427 136 781 301 9.05 < 0.001
AKW M 42 1 5.9 368 81 - 159 9.90 < 0.001
AJU F 34 2 5.1 296 192 1,469 7 13.73 < 0.001
ALN F 65 2 3.6 347 105 1,485 - 1.31 0.271
AMV F 21 1 4.3 313 111 431 249 14.53 < 0.001
ALO F 24 1 8.6 668 142 1,141 - 0.84 0.923
CIX F 20 1 5.4 480 129 - 255 18.92 < 0.001
AJN F 70 2 12.8 484 103 - - 1.08 0.340
Herpetological Conservation and Biology
boundaries. Another factor that could affect home range
size is habitat degradation, which has been reported to
increase home range size of T. o. ornata in Wisconsin
(Curtin 1997). The Sulphur Springs Valley has been
subjected to long-term drought, suburbanization,
livestock overgrazing, and invasion by exotics
(especially Mesquite), which has resulted in severe
degradation of native desert-grassland habitats in many
areas (Bailey 1994; Rosen et al. 1998). Finally, the
duration of tracking may affect home range size in
turtles. For example, home ranges of Emydoidea
blandingii calculated from data collected over several
years were larger than annual home ranges (Schuler and
Thiel 2008). In this study, I could not detect a difference
in home range size for T. o. luteola based on data
collected over one year vs. those collected over two
IGURE 2. A) 95% MCP home ranges of 11 Desert Box Turtles (T. o. luteola) relative to one another and to TT (closed circle in square); B)
Circular histogram showing percentage of compass headings of daily movements for six T. o. luteola (three males; three females) that
demonstrated significant directionality in their movements relative to TT. C) Aerial view of Turtle Tank (TT; dry in this photograph) and
surrounding area. Light lines identify primitive dirt roads.
Plummer.—Spatial Relationships of Desert Box Turtles in Arizona.
years, suggesting that T. o. luteola individuals move
through their entire home range each year.
Alternatively, I may have had insufficient statistical
power to detect an existing difference due to a low
sample size.
Home range sizes in this study should not be
compared to those reported for T. o. luteola in an earlier
study at this site in which data were collected over a
brief period and calculated with a method designed to
yield an index of relative home range sizes rather than
absolute sizes (Plummer 2003).
As reported in an earlier study (Plummer 2003),
surface activity and movements were enhanced by local
rainfall. Movements appeared to be mostly associated
with foraging and were made primarily on bare soil in
sparsely vegetated areas. Although the sinuous paths of
daily movements appeared to have no directional
predisposition (Claussen et al. 1997; Plummer 2003),
turtles were familiar with their home ranges and aware
of their location because they typically returned to the
burrow from which they began their early morning and
late afternoon foraging episodes (Plummer 2003).
While foraging, turtles maintained a high level of
vigilance and quickly responded to disturbances by
ceasing movement and extending their legs and
sometimes their neck vertically in apparent surveillance
behavior (Plummer 2003). Similar behavior, followed
by a quick retreat, was observed at TT when turtles
detected my presence.
Temporary sojourns, commonly reported for T. o.
ornata and its close relative T. carolina, may result from
feeding and nesting forays, exploratory movements,
movements to and from overwintering or nesting sites,
and movements due to environmental perturbations
(Dodd 2001). The most plausible functions for sojourns
in my study were feeding forays and exploratory
movements. Sojourn movements associated with
overwintering and environmental perturbations were
non-factors and the weight gain of one female followed
during her sojourn is inconsistent with a nesting
Differences in habitat, elevation, relief, and vegetation
were difficult to detect around most of TT. However,
the SE quadrant contained a slightly lower wash area
with more dense vegetation. The non-random
distribution of radiotelemetry fixes suggests turtles may
have responded to the slight differences in habitats
around TT. Furthermore, the paucity of turtle fixes in
the SE quadrant, which contained several human-
disturbed areas, suggests avoidance of degraded habitats.
Conservation.—All species and subspecies of
Terrapene are of national concern in the U.S. and are
listed in CITES Appendix II. Terrapene o. luteola is
listed as imperiled (S2) or vulnerable (S3) in Arizona
(NatureServe. 2013. NatureServe Explorer: An Online
Encyclopedia of Life. Available from
. [Accessed: 31
October 2013]). In a status assessment study in Arizona,
Hall and Steidl (unpubl. report) reported that T. o.
luteola may be locally common but has declined
statewide. Together these results suggest that T. o.
luteola may need to be considered for conservation
management to assure future population viability. The
results reported herein on home range size, home range
fidelity, internal home range movements, and temporary
movements out of the home range should be of value to
science-based conservation efforts, especially to
questions of how individual turtles use their habitat and
how turtles might respond when involuntarily removed
from their home ranges in repatriation, translocation, and
relocation efforts (Dodd 2001; Hill et al. 2009, Refsnider
et al. 2012). Nonetheless, additional biologically
relevant information is still needed for a more complete
understanding of the core area requirements of T. o.
luteola. For example, data are needed on potential
nesting migrations out of the home range and on the area
necessary to buffer core habitat from the edge effects of
surrounding land use (Semlitsch and Bodie 2003;
Congdon et al. 2011).
Although individual T. o. luteola are clearly attracted
to stock tanks, whether the attraction affects turtle
behavior, physiology, and life history is unknown.
Historically, water gained from foraging and drinking at
monsoon rain pools provided sufficient water for
survival and population growth; water available at stock
tanks is the result of relatively recent human activities.
Water supplementation is known to increase surface
activity and food acquisition in the long-lived desert
dwelling Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum; Davis
and DeNardo 2009) and increase growth in the Desert
Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii; Field et al. 2007).
Providing additional aquatic resources might similarly
benefit individual turtles; however, there are no
comparative data to support or refute these ideas.
The distribution of stock tanks could be an influential
force shaping the metapopulation dynamics of T. o.
luteola (Roe and Georges 2007; Roe et al. 2009) if stock
tanks represent clumped resources for turtles and local
population density is increased as a result. An
understanding of these issues would require comparative
population studies in areas with and without stock tanks.
Developing comprehensive management strategies for T.
o. luteola on ranchlands will require not only spatial
information such as provided in this paper, but also an
understanding of turtle population structure and how
stock tanks might affect that structure.
Acknowledgments.—Jho and Valer Austin allowed me
to work and reside on their ranchland. Jim and Peg Tout
and Tony and Helen Fraze provided numerous courtesies
and willingness to share their observations on box
Herpetological Conservation and Biology
turtles. Chance Fraze helped collect turtles. Justin
Congdon and Dick van Loben Sels provided ideas,
supplies, use of equipment, and assistance of various
kinds. Julie Fuller and Amanda Moors assisted in
radiotracking. Bob Steidl and David Hall provided their
unpublished T. o. luteola report to the Arizona Game and
Fish Department Heritage Program. Howard Snell
provided information on Nieuwolt’s (1996) study site in
New Mexico. Justin Congdon and Nathan Mills
commented on the manuscript. Authorization to collect
and monitor turtles was provided by the Arizona Game
and Fish Commission (Scientific Collecting Permits
#SP772582, #SP834284). Methods of study followed
established guidelines for reptilian field research
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was funded by several Faculty Development Grants from
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IKE PLUMMER is professor and two-time former Chairman of the Department of Biology at Harding University
where he teaches biostatistics and herpetology. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Kansas and a M.S. from
Utah State University. His research focuses on the ecology of snakes and turtles on which he has published for 40
years. (Photographed by Chance Fraze).
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Most studies of home ranges occur over short time periods and may not represent the spacial requirements of long-lived organisms such as turtles. Home ranges of 18 individual Blanding's Turtles (Emydoidea blandingii) were measured using minimum convex polygons. Annual space use was compared to multi-year space use by individual turtles. We found a sig-nificant difference between annual home range size (25.5 hectares) and multi-year (two to six years) home range size (65.7 hectares; n = 18, P = 0.016). Caution should be employed when making management decisions based on short-term studies of long lived species.
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The destruction of prairies has led to the decline of the ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornate) across much of its range. Land management agencies are considering translocation programs to restore populations to areas from which they have been extirpated. For these conservation efforts to be successful, long-term posttranslocation monitoring is necessary to ensure that translocated individuals behave and use habitat similarly to unmanipulated individuals. We conducted a 3-yr radiotelemetry study of a potential source population of ornate box turtles to provide baseline data on home range size and site fidelity pretranslocation. Adult males and females did not differ in minimum convex polygon home range size (mean 4.0 ha), 95% fixed kernel home ranges (mean 2.6 ha), or 50% fixed kernel home ranges (mean 0.4 ha). Both sexes showed high site fidelity to annual home ranges and to previously used overwintering sites, although distance between subsequent overwintering sites was less for females than for males. At our study site, ornate box turtles have relatively small home ranges and exhibit strong site fidelity. Translocation programs for this species should closely monitor movements of translocated individuals to assess whether they are successfully establishing new home ranges or attempting to return to their site of origin. Moreover, the high site fidelity exhibited by this species suggests that newly translocated individuals may be at increased mortality risk because they are unfamiliar with suitable overwintering and/or nesting sites in their new location. The results of our study will be used to ensure that sites to which animals are translocated are comparable to the site of origin in terms of home range size requirements and important habitat features. In addition, our data serve as a critical baseline to which the habitat use and movement patterns of monitored animals posttranslocation can be directly compared to assess the success of the translocation.
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Although many authors have used thread trailing to monitor movements of turtles and other vertebrates, most have evaluated only a portion of the information contained in these pathways. We describe ways of extracting information from thread trails by determining length of trail, mean distance moved per unit time, net displacement, area encompassed by the trail, mean turning angle, and mean vector length. We further describe and compare four measures of trail sinuosity, the ratio of greatest distance to length of path (d/L), the square root of the ratio of area to path length , fractal dimension (D), and sinuosity (S); we then applied these methods to the trails of a population of ornate box turtles (Terrapene ornata) from the Nebraska Sand Hills. Though preliminary, these data suggest that vegetation cover affects the sinuosity of turtle trails (based on D), that temperature affects the mean distance moved per day, that T. ornata ordinarily show little or no directional bias, and that injury can affect distance moved, trail sinuosity, and mean turning angle. Among these measures of trail sinuosity, D and S are highly correlated and provide similar information. Though less closely correlated with D and S, or with each other, and d/L also reflect trail sinuosity; of these indices, however, d/L best reflects trail directionality. This analysis suggests that a more comprehensive evaluation of pathways at this fine scale will provide new insights into the routine movements of animals.
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We documented sizes of terrestrial protection zones around wetlands that are necessary to protect all of the core area of Blanding’s Turtles (Emydoidea blandingii (Holbrook, 1838)) on the Edwin S. George Reserve (ESGR) in southeastern Michigan. Data collected over three decades indicated that 39% of the 83 females and 50% of the 60 males maintained the same residence wetland for more than 20 years, and 33% of the 182 nonresident females used nesting areas on the ESGR for more than 20 years. Approximately 20% of resident males and females were captured in 21 temporary wetlands on the ESGR. Nesting areas were located from 100 to 2000 m from residence wetlands, and some of 45 females (18%) used up to six different nesting areas, some separated by >1000 m. Terrestrial protection zones 300 and 450 m around all wetlands (residence and temporary) protect 90% and 100% of nests, respectively. Terrestrial protection zones of 300, 1000, and 2000 m around residence wetlands only are required to protect 14%, 87%, and 100% of adults, respectively. A protection zone that encompasses the activities of most or all Blanding’s Turtles has a high probability of including the core areas of most other semiaquatic organisms.
Relocating populations of philopatric turtle species is a relatively rare method used for species conservation that has had equivocal results. The purpose of this study is to report on the status of a population of ornate box turtles, Terrapene ornata ornata Agassiz, that was introduced into a restored tallgrass prairie habitat 160 km from its native location. From 1998–2003, a total of 56 individual turtles and one nest were collected from their natal habitat and were released into either a 5-ha or 1.75-ha enclosure. Most of the turtles were scute marked prior to release to facilitate recognition of specific individuals. In 2006–07, we resampled the population to determine if any turtles survived the relocation, if any local reproduction could be detected, and if specific microhabitats were being selected. We captured 14 T. ornata ornata, 11 of which were definitively part of the original turtle introduction. Three juvenile turtles were found and aged to be 5 years, suggesting local reproduction is occurring on site. Finally, although some turtles move through the prairie habitat throughout the fall season, only a small sandy microhabitat was used for hibernating. Our results suggest that relocating ornate box turtle populations to avoid mortality can be used as a successful conservation practice provided that the individuals are first released into a confinement to restrict their philopatric instincts.
We studied a population of ornate box turtles (Terrapene ornata) during 1977-87 in south-central Wisconsin, and intensively monitored (≥20 relocations) 53 radio-marked individuals during 1986-87. Egg laying occurred mainly in June; eggs in four nests hatched after 79-84 d. Twenty-one of 37 adult females (57%) laid during 1986-87, mean clutch size was 3.5, and hatchlings per adult female averaged 0.7. Mean annual survival of marked adults (age ≥10 yr) was 0.81 during 1977-87 (Jolly-Seber analysis). We estimated a total of 54-56 adults on four occupied sites within our 8 km2 study area. Adult densities at these sites ranged from 2.9-5.0/ha. Most (84%) turtles entered hibernation during Sept.; all emerged during April. Known periods of hibernation averaged 216 d (n = 9); burrow depths were between 0.5-1.8 m (n = 26). Mean home range size of adults was 8.7 ha (n = 47) annually, but varied greatly among individuals and did not differ significantly with sex or year. Home ranges of juveniles and subadults were much smaller. Areas of remnant prairie on deep sandy soil were frequented disproportionately, whereas agricultural cropland was clearly avoided. We compared demographic parameters of this and other turtle populations, and explored requisites for numerical stability with observed and hypothetical survival and recruitment rates. Our study area population will likely continue to decline because the average rate of adult survival (0.81 annually) is well below that (about 0.95) which would, with normal recruitment, stabilize numbers. Results of this study are discussed from a management perspective.
Marked ornate box turtles (Terrapene ornata) were studied on a 4.05 ha tract through 5 seasons and on approximately .93 ha through an additional 17 seasons. Densities ranged from .65 to .89 adults per ha. A female marked as a juvenile reached sexual maturity at age 8 and continued to grow to age 15. Males matured more rapidly than females; a male was presumably mature sexually at age 7. There was only partial concordance between ages estimated from growth rings on scutes and by extrapolation from growth curves. The oldest turtle was estimated to be 32 years of age. Virtually complete turnover of the population is indicated within 32 years. Cars were a common cause of mortality. The activity season spans a little more than 8 months. Mating behavior occurs through much of the activity season. Home ranges of males averaged 105 m in diameter, those of females 94 m. These turtles are omnivorous. Free water was obtained by visits to a pond. The results generally agree with those from a study of the same species in Kansas. Main disagreement is in estimates of growth rates and age of maturity.
Movement patterns in the western box turtle, Terrapene ornata luteola, were estimated from both repeated sightings on a road and radiotelemetry. Home ranges were smaller than those expected from random movements. Turtles in the study area may have larger home ranges (mean area of 1.6 ha, minimum polygon method, mean maximum diameter of 276 m) than box turtles in more mesic habitats. No significant differences in home range size or distances moved were observed between sexes, and overlap was considerable. Turtles moved farther on the road than off the road and the road may have increased the size of the home range of some turtles. Turtles were most active when ambient temperatures were 13-24 C, solar radiation was <200 jules/cm2/h, and humidity was high (<20 mbar vapour pressure deficit). Turtles selected micro-habitats with lower soil temperatures, higher ambient temperatures, and lower humidity levels than those observed at the meteorological station on the study site.