Spatial ecology of Eastern Box Turtles (Terrapene c. carolina) in the Oak Openings Region of Northwestern Ohio
Eastern Box Turtles (Terrapene c. carolina) have experienced range-wide declines as the result of extensive habitat loss, fragmentation, and alteration. The Oak Openings Region of northwestern Ohio is a biodiversity hotspot that exists in a highly fragmented landscape and provides a unique case study from which to examine the effects of anthropogenic disturbance on Eastern Box Turtles. In an effort to inform management and conservation efforts in the Oak Openings Region, I initiated a radio-telemetry project with the following objectives: 1) examine the spatial ecology of Eastern Box Turtles over several years to understand how they interact with their habitat in an area as unique as the Oak Openings Region, 2) develop predictive models depicting the temporal distributions of Eastern Box Turtles, 3) examine the impacts of one of the most common management tools in the Oak Openings Region, prescribed fire, on Eastern Box Turtles, and 4) evaluate pattern-recognition software as a low-cost alternative of identifying individual Eastern Box Turtles. Turtles at my study site exhibited larger home ranges than previously reported for this species as well as hierarchical habitat selection at multiple scales. Predicted distributions followed phenological shifts in habitat use and were influenced primarily by habitat type and canopy cover. Prescribed fires have the potential to have a devastating effect on box turtle populations, but management activities that take box turtle ecology into account will minimize these impacts while maintaining a critical disturbance regime. Computer-assisted photo-recognition has a great deal of potential as a supplemental method of identifying box turtles and provides a low-cost means of incorporating citizen science data into mark-recapture studies. My work suggests that conservation for Eastern Box Turtles in the Oak Openings Region should focus on maintenance and restoration of remaining box turtle habitat, connectivity between critical habitat patches, and altering burn regimes to minimize negative effects on box turtles while still meeting ecosystem-level management objectives.