Demand help for the Ornate box turtle
Demand help for the Ornate box turtle
Threats to the ornate box turtle
Intrinsic threats – natural occurrences and factors relating to the turtle itself
Because of its late reproductive age, low reproductive rate, high young mortality, and long lifespan, the ornate box turtle is subject to pressure from intrinsic factors that limit the population growth. Young turtles are vulnerable to predation until the shell is strong enough to be a major protection (except from being run over by cars). The loss of any older females is a problem, because they do not get replaced very fast. Climatic factors are also possible threats to the ornate box turtle. Because the sex of turtles is strongly influenced by temperature, the sex ratio can be changed by climatic extremes and result in a population that is mostly all one sex for several years in a row. This gender imbalance would affect the survival of small groups that would be threatened by the occurrence of a genetic bottleneck which means the gene pool would be too small and cause inbreeding and mortality. The bottleneck effect is a double-edged sword for species that live a long time because the loss of genetic diversity would not be as obvious or as severe, but once it occurred, it would be harder to recover. The other thing about the ornate box turtle's life history that is a problem for its survival is its home range philopatry, which means that it returns to the same area every time and so disruptions in the area make it more vulnerable.
Extrinsic threats – human effects on the ornate box turtle
The ornate box turtle is a terrestrial turtle and terrestrial turtles are sensitive to human causes such as habitat destruction, introduced species, harvest or collection, pollution, and climate change.
Agriculture – agriculture in the Great Plains has been the worst problem for the ornate box turtle recently because it has taken away lots of acres of land, destroyed habitat, caused more traffic, and created small, isolated areas of prairie. In addition, the small pieces of prairie mean more edge habitats, which causes more predators to live there and that increases predation of the box turtle that is already suffering from less total habitat area. Other agricultural factors that are a problem for the ornate box turtle are fences, water troughs, cattle (trampling), mowing, and other machinery.
Development – houses and other building construction causes loss of habitat similar to agriculture, but also increased removal for pets, predation by dogs, and greater predation to crows and raccoons that increase around human living areas. Where housing developments are built, there are also more roads. The box turtle feeds on carrion when it is available and on roads road-kill is a large source of carrion and a large cause of death of ornate box turtles.
Over-exploitation – a huge number of ornate box turtles have been collected for sale in pet stores, and individuals have always collected some turtles. The commercial trade has had a large effect on the Great Plains populations and if it continues, the result will be a serious decline in turtles.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the ornate box turtle is "near threatened." In some states, such as Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado, the turtle is "secure"; but in South Dakota, it is listed as "imperiled"; and in Wyoming it is listed as "critically imperiled." Management decisions for the ornate box turtle are difficult because of life history factors. It seems that the best strategies will be aimed at older females to increase their survival instead of concentrating on hatchlings and juvenile turtles. One of the first things that needs to be done is to get a better idea of the actual number of ornate box turtles that exist and also to make it illegal to collect any for pet or commercial trade, as some states did. Along with this is the need to stop the release of captive box turtles that have respiratory infections into the wild because of the effect of disease on survival. Management techniques that preserve the best habitat composition are important conservation practices.
Probably the biggest factor that affects the ornate box turtle is interactions with human so any action that minimizes contact is helpful. Working to keep large areas of habitat undisturbed is also helpful. Managing weeds with a minimal amount of herbicide and knowing what chemicals are in the herbicide and how they affect turtles is important. The use of fire and mowing to control weeds should be done carefully when turtles are inactive or in burrows to keep cool. The public is not likely to want to stop collecting turtles, even if the pet trade were prohibited, because people like to look at turtles and other forms of nature. Nebraska and Louisiana have prohibited collecting ornate box turtles, but New Mexico and Texas have not. Educating the public about the risks to the ornate box turtle will be difficult but should be part of the conservation effort. One conservation effort that might be helpful is removal of predators from an area where many turtles are found; one study found that removing raccoons was helpful but it also leads to the question of balance in nature and which animals are more important. Some biologists have suggested that moving turtles from healthy populations to areas where the turtle is struggling might be an option but this is difficult and might be a last resort.
Habitat loss is the biggest problem for the ornate box turtle and isolated habitat areas have isolated groups of turtles that lose genetic diversity and experience bottlenecks that decrease their survival.[