Effects of Weather Conditions and Drought on Activity of Spotted Turtles (Clemmys Guttata) in a Southwestern Michigan Wetland

By Rowe, John W.; Gradel, Jessica R. et al. | The American Midland Naturalist, January 2013 | Go to article overview

Effects of Weather Conditions and Drought on Activity of Spotted Turtles (Clemmys Guttata) in a Southwestern Michigan Wetland


Rowe, John W., Gradel, Jessica R., Bunce, Charles F., The American Midland Naturalist


ABSTRACT.-The persistence of a population of ectothermic vertebrates can be closely tied to variations in weather patterns that influence diel or seasonal cycling of temperature and moisture levels. We studied the effects of drought and weather patterns on the summer activity and movements of Spotted Turtles (Clemmys guttata) in a small wetland in southwestern Michigan over 2 y. During the periods of time with standing water, turtles aquatically active in depressions or terrestrial in grass-sedge-rush and Sphagnum hummocks but their movements were unaffected by daily weather patterns. Turtles tended to occupy multiple core areas within a relatively contiguous home range. When the wetland dried, turtles estivated beneath vegetation, or estivated or maintained limited activity in small forest ponds immediately adjacent to the wetland. In 2006, turdes resumed activity following heavy rains during late Jul. and early Aug. In 2007, however, late summer rains were not sufficient to restore substantial standing water in the wetland and so turde movements were relatively low. Home range and core area size were significantly smaller in 2007 than in 2006, apparently because of the relatively short summer hydroperiod that occurred during 2007. Unlike previously studied C. guttata populations, the turdes of our population did not travel among multiple upland and lowland habitats, perhaps because such environments were not of higher quality than our wetland, or because the risks of traveling to them were too great.

Introduction

Rates of energy acquisition and processing in ectotherms are heavily influenced by temperature and thus by weather patterns and seasonality in temperature (Peterson et ai, 1993). Furthermore, to maintain a positive energy balance, animal species that reside in ephemeral environments may estivate or move to locations with more favorable conditions (Ligon and Peterson, 2002; Winne et al., 2006). In such cases, die benefits of movement to alternative habitats would be expected to outweigh the costs of failing to move (e.g., elevated prédation rates, desiccation, and thermal extremes). For example, members of aquatic reptile groups often face drying of habitats that potentially result in absence of water, reduction of productivity, or extreme environmental temperatures (Bennett et al., 1970; Winne et al., 2006). In freshwater turdes, responses to drought may include subterranean estivation, particularly by relatively small-bodied species, or overland migration to larger and less ephemeral habitats (Gibbons et al., 1983). Whetiier a species migrates or estivates is likely to be influenced by its ability to migrate overland as well as its ability to withstand prolonged periods without food and water (Ligon and Peterson, 2002; Winne et al., 2006). Alternatively, the evolution of drought-related physiological mechanisms (e.g., resistance to desiccation) may allow residing in a drying environment (Ligon and Peterson, 2002). The effects of annual variations in precipitation and water levels could heavily influence activity and tiius energy acquisition by individuals. For instance, reproductive output can be substantially reduced during drought years in some freshwater turde species (Gibbons et al., 1983). Understanding the effects of environmental variation on activity should help to understand variation in individual growth rate, body size, and reproductive output, within and among populations (Winne et al., 2006).

Spotted Turtles ( Clemmys guttata) are a useful system for the study of habitat use by a freshwater turtle when suitable habitats vary spatially and temporally. Clemmys guttata has die shortest annual activity period of any North American freshwater turde (Litzgus et al., 1999; Ernst and Lovich, 2009). In Northern latitudes, C. guttata may remain in hibernacula for as long as 7-8 mo (Litzgus el al., 1999) followed by spring mating aggregations in Apr. and May but sometimes in Jun. as well (Ernst and Lovich, 2009). …

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