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Basking habitat use and response of freshwater turtles to human presence in an urban canal of Central New Jersey

Pittfield, Taryn, Burger, Joanna
Urban ecosystems 2017 v.20 no.2 pp. 449-461
Kinosternidae, canopy, cloud cover, ecosystems, escape behavior, habitat preferences, humans, man-made trails, recreation, swimming, turtles, urban areas, urban parks, vegetation, wildlife, New Jersey
Pressures of rapid development continue to increase, and recreational activities are becoming a prominent driving force in many urban wildlife communities. Freshwater turtles live in many urban environments, yet little attention has been given to the impact of human recreation upon these communities. We examined the response of basking turtles to observer presence along the towpath of a recreational canal in central New Jersey. All species, except for turtles of the family Kinosternidae, were more frequently observed basking on substrate with less than 50 % canopy cover, log substrate was most preferred, and turtles on the towpath side basked an average of 3 m from the towpath. Turtles were vigilant and over 75 % of C. picta, T.S. elegans, and P. rubriventris responded to observer presence by retreating (swimming away). The distance from the towpath turtles were first seen basking by the observer (approach distance) was significantly correlated with the flight-initiation distance (distance of first respond to observer). Nearly 80 % of the variability in flight initiation distance for Kinosternidae was accounted for by the percent canopy cover, percent cloud cover, and height basking above the water. Researchers aiming to quantify and manage human recreational impact on turtles should examine flight-initiation distances. We encourage wildlife managers of urban parks to construct towpaths or recreational areas at a minimum of 7 m from the water’s edge, maintain moderate vegetation in basking areas, and construct additional basking platforms opposite from towpaths or at great distances from human recreational areas.