Demographics and density estimates of two three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis) populations within forest and restored prairie sites in central Missouri

Kelly M. O'Connor, Chadwick D. Rittenhouse, Joshua J. Millspaugh, Tracy A.G. Rittenhouse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Box turtles (Terrapene carolina) are widely distributed but vulnerable to population decline across their range. Using distance sampling, morphometric data, and an index of carapace damage, we surveyed three-toed box turtles (Terrapene carolina triunguis) at 2 sites in central Missouri, and compared differences in detection probabilities when transects were walked by one or two observers. Our estimated turtle densities within forested cover was less at the Thomas S. Baskett Wildlife Research and Education Center, a site dominated by eastern hardwood forest (d = 1.85 turtles/ha, 95% CI [1.13, 3.03]) than at the Prairie Fork Conservation Area, a site containing a mix of open field and hardwood forest (d = 4.14 turtles/ha, 95% CI [1.99, 8.62]). Turtles at Baskett were significantly older and larger than turtles at Prairie Fork. Damage to the carapace did not differ significantly between the 2 populations despite the more prevalent habitat management including mowing and prescribed fire at Prairie Fork.We achieved improved estimates of density using two rather than one observer at Prairie Fork, but negligible differences in density estimates between the two methods at Baskett. Error associated with probability of detection decreased at both sites with the addition of a second observer. We provide demographic data on three-toed box turtles that suggest the use of a range of habitat conditions by three-toed box turtles. This case study suggests that habitat management practices and their impacts on habitat composition may be a cause of the differences observed in our focal populations of turtles.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1256
JournalPeerJ
Volume2015
Issue number9
DOIs
StatePublished - 2015

Keywords

  • Density estimation
  • Distance sampling
  • Fragmentation
  • Habitat management
  • Terrapene carolina triunguis
  • Three-toed box turtle

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