Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Factors influencing occurrence of a freshwater turtle in an urban landscape: a resilient species?

Danielle Stokeld A D E , Andrew J. Hamer A , Rodney van der Ree A , Vincent Pettigrove B and Graeme Gillespie C D

A Australian Research Centre for Urban Ecology, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne c/o School of Botany, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic. 3010, Australia.

B Centre for Aquatic Pollution Identification & Management, Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic. 3010, Australia.

C Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic. 3010, Australia.

D Present address: Flora and Fauna Division, Department of Land Resource Management, Northern Territory Government, PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT 0831, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email: dstokeld@gmail.com

Wildlife Research 41(2) 163-171 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WR13205
Submitted: 3 December 2013  Accepted: 26 June 2014   Published: 8 August 2014

Abstract

Context: Species vary broadly in their ability to adapt to urbanisation. Freshwater turtles are vulnerable to the loss and degradation of terrestrial and aquatic habitat in urban environments. There have been few publications investigating impacts of urbanisation on freshwater turtles in Australia.

Aims: We investigated the effects of urbanisation on the distribution and abundance of the eastern long-necked turtle (Chelodina longicollis) in greater Melbourne.

Methods: We examined occurrence and relative abundance of C. longicollis at 55 wetlands across an urban–rural gradient in relation to site- and landscape-level factors. Occupancy was modelled using the program PRESENCE, and incorporated landscape and habitat covariates. A negative binomial regression model was used to examine the influence of landscape and habitat factors on relative abundance by using WinBUGS.

Key results: C. longicollis occupied 85% of the 55 wetlands we surveyed, and we found no evidence that wetland occupancy was influenced by the variables we measured. However, relative abundance was highest at wetlands with low water conductivity and heavy metal pollution, and in wetlands furthest from rivers.

Conclusions: C. longicollis appears to be resilient to urbanisation and is likely to persist in urban landscapes, possibly because of the creation of new wetlands in Australian cities. However, long-term studies focussed on demographic parameters, or survivorship, may elucidate as yet undetected effects of urbanisation. Although no specific management recommendations may be necessary for C. longicollis in urban areas at this time, this species may be in decline in non-urban areas as a result of climatic changes and wetland drying.

Implications: Our findings suggest that caution is required before drawing generalised conclusions on the impacts of urbanisation on turtles, as the effects are likely to be species-specific, dependent on specific ecology and life-history requirements. Further studies are required to ascertain these relationships for a wider array of species and over longer time spans.

Additional keywords: Chelodina longicollis, landscape ecology, occupancy, reptile, urbanisation, urban wetlands.


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