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Not just any old pile of dirt: evaluating the use of artificial nesting mounds as conservation tools for freshwater turtles

  • James E. Paterson (a1), Brad D. Steinberg (a2) and Jacqueline D. Litzgus (a1)

The viability of freshwater turtle populations is largely dependent on the survivorship of reproducing females but females are frequently killed on roads as they move to nesting sites. Installing artificial nesting mounds may increase recruitment and decrease the risk of mortality for gravid females by enticing them to nest closer to aquatic habitats. We evaluated the effectiveness of artificial nesting mounds installed in Algonquin Park, Canada. Artificial mounds were monitored for 2 years to determine if turtles would select them for nest sites. We also simulated turtle paths from wetlands to nests to determine the probability that females would encounter the new habitat. A transplant experiment with clutches of Chrysemys picta and Chelydra serpentina eggs compared nest success and incubation conditions in the absence of predation between artificial mounds and natural sites. More turtles than expected used the artificial mounds, although mounds comprised a small proportion of the available nesting habitat and the simulations predicted that the probability of females encountering mounds was low. Hatching success was higher in nests transplanted to artificial mounds (93%) than in natural nests (56%), despite no differences in heat units. Greater use than expected, high hatching success, and healthy hatchlings emerging from nests in artificial mounds suggest promise for their use as conservation tools.

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