Wood turtles occur in the Northeastern United States where conservation
concerns include habitat loss, road kill, mortality from farm equipment,
and overexploitation (for pets). Credit: Steven Kirchbaum.
PORTLAND, Ore. February 1, 2011.
Fact: The sex of some species of turtles is determined by the temperature
of the nest: warm nests produce females, cooler nests, males. And
although turtles have been on the planet for about 220 million
years, scientists now report that almost half of the turtle species
is threatened. Turtle scientists are working to understand how
global warming may affect turtle reproduction. To bring attention
to this and other issues affecting turtles, researchers and other
supporters have designated 2011 as the Year of the Turtle.
Why should we be concerned about the loss of turtles?
Turtles are centrally nested in the food web and are symbols of
our natural heritage. They hold a significant role in many cultures.
For example, in many southeast Asian cultures turtles are used
for food, pets, and medicine,” explains Deanna Olson, a
research ecologist and co-chair of the Partners in Amphibian
Conservation steering committee spearheading the Year of the
Turtles (which include tortoises) are central
to the food web.
Sea turtles graze on the sea grass found on the ocean floor,
helping to keep it short and healthy. Healthy sea grass in turn
is an important
breeding ground for many species of fish, shellfish, and crustaceans.
The same processes hold for freshwater and land turtles. For
example, turtles contribute to the health of marshes and wetlands,
important prey for a suite of predators. The Year of the Turtle
activities, include a monthly newsletter showcasing research
and conservation efforts, education and citizen science projects,
art, literature, and cultural perspectives, says Olson, a scientist
with the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station.
Olson also co-authored a report, “State of the Turtle,” and
created a new turtle mapping project for the United States. The
report is being translated into other languages for use here
and around the world.
A French translation of the report is already completed, and groups
from Bangladesh and Germany signed on recently to help promote
turtle conservation, and new partners join us each week,” explains
Here are a few quick facts about turtles:
- About 50 percent of freshwater
turtle species are threatened worldwide, more than any other
- About 20 percent of all turtle species worldwide
are found in North America.
- Primary threats to turtles are habitat
loss and exploitation.
- Climate change patterns, altered temperatures,
affected wetlands and stream flow all are key factors that
- Urban and suburban development causes turtles
to be victims to fast-moving cars, farm machinery; turtles
can also be unintentionally caught in fishing nets.
What can be
done to conserve turtle populations?
- Protect rare turtle species
and their habitats.
- Manage common turtle species and their habitats
so they may remain common.
- Manage crisis situations such as
acute hazards (i.e., oil spills) and rare species in
To read the report and learn more about
the Year of the Turtle and how you
|Spotted turtles are considered a threatened species in areas
of the Eastern United States where the main conservation concerns
are habitat destruction and overexploitation (for pets). Spotted
turtles have temperature-dependent sex determination which
has raised concerns relative to future reproduction and global
warming predictions (whether only one sex might be produced
in warm years). Credit: John White, Virginia Herpetological
||Historically, the common snapping turtle is widespread in
the Eastern and Central United States, but not much is known
about their current distribution. They are a target species
for the USA Turtle Mapping Project currently being organized
by Dede Olson of the U.S. Forest Service. Credit: Mark Feldman.
The Pacific Northwest Research Station is headquartered in
Portland, Oregon. It has 11 laboratories and centers in Alaska,