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Individual Highlight

“Long live the wood turtles!” is both a cheer and a fact

Photo of Image1 Forest Service Research Wildlife Biologist Richard Buech (retired), counts annual growth rings on the carapace (upper shell) of an adult wood turtle in northeastern Minnesota during the original study, 1990. Mark Nelson, USDA Forest Service
Image Donald Brown (right), West Virginia University, examines the carapace (upper shell) of an adult wood turtle in northeastern Minnesota while University of Minnesota-Duluth graduate student Madaline Cochrane (left) and Northern Michigan University student intern Stefan Nelson (center) view the plastron (lower shell) and record data during the 2015 study. 
Image1 Forest Service Research Wildlife Biologist Richard Buech (retired), counts annual growth rings on the carapace (upper shell) of an adult wood turtle in northeastern Minnesota during the original study, 1990. Mark Nelson, USDA Forest Service Image Donald Brown (right), West Virginia University, examines the carapace (upper shell) of an adult wood turtle in northeastern Minnesota while University of Minnesota-Duluth graduate student Madaline Cochrane (left) and Northern Michigan University student intern Stefan Nelson (center) view the plastron (lower shell) and record data during the 2015 study. Snapshot : Forest Service researchers and their collaborators revisited a 25-year-old study and found that old turtles can deliver new knowledge about the past, present, and future. Discoveries include: wood turtle longevity, population trends, and monitoring techniques.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Nelson, Mark D. 
Research Location : Northeastern Minnesota
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2017
Highlight ID : 1268

Summary

In 1990, Forest Service researchers from the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station initiated a study of wood turtles (Glyptemys insculpta) in northeastern Minnesota. Twenty-five years later, members of the original research team joined with new team members and collaborators to revisit the original study site, replicate original surveys, recapture some of the same turtles marked in 1990, and analyze old and new data. The combination of a large amount of suitable habitat and limited human exposure on predominantly public ownership in northeastern Minnesota has likely allowed this population to avoid many of the stressors impacting populations in other regions. A recaptured turtle originally marked in 1990 revealed a new longevity record for oldest wood turtle in the wild: 55 years! Air temperature was an important predictor of survey-specific detection probability, with maximum detectability at 19-23 degrees Celsius (about 66-73 degrees Fahrenheit). Comparing population surveys from 1990 and 2015, the team found no evidence of a wood turtle population decline in northeastern Minnesota over the past 25 years. To improve future monitoring efforts, the team developed, tested, and published a new survey and analysis design for wood turtle population monitoring across the Upper Midwest.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Superior National Forest
  • Fond du Lac Resource Management Division
  • University of Minnesota-Duluth
  • West Virginia University