Life in the Suburbs: Behavior and Survival of a Freshwater Turtle in Response to Drought and Urbanization

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Biological Conservation





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Urbanization fundamentally alters the abiotic and biotic components of landscapes, presenting wildlife with serious challenges to which they must respond in order to avoid excess mortality from urban dangers. In this study, we used radio-telemetry to examine the behavior and survivorship of an Australian freshwater turtle, Chelodina longicollis, in a suburban environment compared to a control group on an adjacent nature reserve. We expected turtles in the suburbs to be less mobile, but the suburban environment did not inhibit the ability of turtles to traverse large areas and make frequent movements among several different wetlands. In fact, suburban turtles were more vagile, moving distances twice as far as those on the nature reserves. Turtles on the nature reserve responded to dropping water levels during drought by estivating for several months in sheltered woodland micro-habitats. Suburban turtles did not estivate terrestrially, in part because their water bodies experienced dampened water level fluctuations and retained water during drought, though the relative unavailability of suitable estivation sites and perceived threats could also account for their avoidance of extended forays into the terrestrial environment. Annual survival rate was 95.3% in the reserves compared to 87.6% in the suburbs, but this 7.7% decrease in survival from road mortality was not significant in our survivorship models. The continued ability of suburban turtles to remain vagile without suffering from high mortality rates is likely a product of the availability of vegetated drainage lines and under-road “box” culverts that allow turtles to travel safely throughout the suburban landscape.


Medical Sciences


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