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Seasonal movements and habitat preferences for the spotted turtle and eastern box turtle in Massachusetts

  • Author(s): Kaye, Delia R.J.
  • Walsh, Kevin M.
  • Ross, Christopher M.
  • et al.
Abstract

Seasonal habitat use and population dynamics of a spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) population and an eastern box turtle (Terrapene c. carolina) population in southeastern Massachusetts are presented in this paper. The two-year study, conducted between March 1998 and December 1999, was part of a mitigation plan proposed by the Massachusetts Highway Department (MassHighway) and approved by the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) to mitigate for 1.0 hectares of direct rare species habitat loss and 1.6 hectares of indirect habitat loss associated with a highway relocation project in Carver, Kingston, and Plymouth, Massachusetts. Sixty individual spotted turtles were captured in a 29-hectare study area consisting of upland and wetland habitat in Carver. Of these, 11 spotted turtles were radio tracked. Thirty-seven box turtles were also captured and 7 were radio tracked. Spotted turtles were observed in wetlands 96 percent of the time, and box turtles 15 percent of the time. During the spring and nesting season, spotted turtles were found exclusively in wetlands. Most activity was observed in an open emergent wetland and a forested vernal pool, with movement between the two habitat types via a stream channel and secondarily via overland travel through the forested wetland. Most turtles estivated in the emergent or forested wetland; only one turtle consistently estivated in forested upland. Hibernacula were found in the forested vernal pool (3) and the emergent wetland (3). The southern ramp of new Route 44 alignment will bisect the spotted turtle population. A proposed 1.8-meter by 1.8-meter box culvert that will convey the stream channel under one of the highway entrance ramps may provide a passageway connecting the emergent wetland to the forested vernal pool; its use will be determined during a future study. Box turtles were generally found in forested upland in the spring, in open upland during the nesting season and summer, with some summer migration to wetlands. Five hibernacula were found, all in forested upland. The new alignment should have less impact on the box turtle population, but will likely result in some loss of nesting habitat and some shifts in home range. Use of nearby replacement nesting habitat will be monitored during a future study. Home ranges averaged 1.43 hectares for spotted turtles and 3.26 hectares for box turtles. For both species, home ranges were larger for males than for females. The population density for spotted turtles was estimated to be 18.8 turtles per hectare, and for box turtles was estimated to be 3.0 turtles per hectare.

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