“Turtles are underappreciated, but they play pivotal roles in many ecosystems, from seed dispersal to altering the environment around them,” Dr. Josh Ennen says. “If we lose turtles, we potentially lose a vital function in those ecosystems. We can’t afford that.”
Chattanooga, TN (PRWEB)
September 15, 2017
When it comes to conserving a species, scientists first must know two things: Where they live and why they reside there. A first-of-its-kind study conducted by Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute scientists Dr. Josh Ennen and Sarah Sweat seeks to answer these fundamental questions regarding North America’s many turtle species.
The ground-breaking report was published in the latest issue of Herpetological Monographs. Working in collaboration with other North American experts, Ennen and Sweat mapped the geographic boundaries of all the turtle communities in North America — the ‘where?’ — and analyzed how modern and historical forces shaped these patterns — the ‘why?’
Many scientists research turtles at the level of individual species or single habitats, but this study represents the first attempt to consider them on the scale of the entire continent. The map divides North America into 16 bio-geographic “provinces,” sprawling regions containing turtle species with similar or shared characteristics.
Looking at these reptiles in such a broad context, researchers determined that the provinces’ borders were defined by many forces, from modern environmental factors to ancient geologic processes.
“As scientists, we need to consider all of those factors to understand why turtles are threatened, in some cases,” Ennen says. “We produced some useful maps, and I think there are numerous conservation implications for this study, eventually.”
In some cases, researchers determined that the modern distribution of turtles is the product of geological events millions of years old. For example, the study found similar turtle species to those living in the Mississippi River on the western side of Crowley’s Ridge — more than 40 miles to the west. The similarity in these otherwise isolated populations can be explained as a kind of echo from a time when the Mississippi…