Recovery Strategy for the Blanding's Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii), Nova Scotia Population, in Canada
Blanding's turtles have been described as a flagship species for conservation in Nova Scotia (Lefebvre 2009) and research and recovery actions have been underway for many years. The strategic approaches identified in this strategy are informed by both past and current research and build onthe successes and knowledge gained from early recovery actions.
The Kejimkujik population was first described in Nova Scotia in 1953 and turtles have marked in this population since 1969 (Drysdale 1983, Thexton and Mallet 1977-1979, Weller 1971-1972).With help from members of the public, the populations at McGowan Lake and Pleasant River were described in 1996 and 1997 respectively (McNeil 2002, Caverhill 2003).
An extensive research, recovery and monitoring program has been underway since the mid 1990's which has increased knowledge of habitat use, threats, and age-specific survivorship necessary to inform recovery. In addition to ongoing monitoring, many research projects have been conducted to examine nesting ecology, hatchling movement, juvenile abundance and survivorship, travel routes, habitat characteristics, population genetics, and predation threats9. The cornerstone of the recovery approach has been based on a well established volunteer-based nest protection program which has taken place annually in Kejimkujik since 1992 (Standing et al. 2000) and was expanded to the other two populations in the early 2000's (Caverhill 2003, McNeil 2002). In addition to protecting nests from predation, this program provides valuable data on survivorship, fecundity, site fidelity and recruitment.
Initial efforts to bolster recruitment through headstarting in the early 1990s showed that headstarts could survive and behave like wild juveniles (Morrison 1996). Recent headstarting efforts began in 2002 to specifically address recovery at Grafton Lake, in Kejimkujik (Newbould 2003, Penny 2004). In the early 2000's, a Population Viability Analysis (PVA) was conducted on the Kejimkujik and McGowan Lake populations suggest that both are at a significant risk of decline; it predicted that a variety of recovery actions aimed at younger life stages could effectively reduce the extinction risk in both populations. Following the development of the PVA, the headstarting program was expanded to include the entire Kejimkujik population and McGowan Lake populations. In 2009, the current phase of this recovery experiment began, including the laboratory incubation of eggs at a variety of temperatures to determine the most appropriate to produces healthy hatchlings of both sexes (Arsenault in progress).
Efforts have also been underway to protect Blanding's turtle habitat. The known Kejimkujik population occurs mostly within the boundaries of the park, and much of this habitat has been declared as Zone 1, the highest level of protection (Kejimkujik National Park 1995). At McGowan Lake, 102ha of Blanding's turtle habitat were formally protected by Abitibi-Bowater under the company's Unique Areas Program; the Province of Nova Scotia has since acquired this land. Additionally, the province has protected over 500 ha through their Integrated Resource Management system and recently purchased an additional 12 ha of important overwintering habitat from a private landowner at McGowan Lake. Through the Nova Scotia Nature Trust, four parcels of Blanding's turtle habitat have been protected in Pleasant River.
Research and recovery actions are guided by the Blanding's Turtle Recovery Team, which each year reviews the ongoing activities and provides recommendations. The recovery program involves a variety of partners including Parks Canada, Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources, Acadia University, Dalhousie University, Oaklawn Farm Zoo, Nova Scotia Nature Trust, Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute, Friends of Keji Cooperating Association, Abitibi-Bowater, Nova Scotia Power as well as numerous volunteers, students, and local landowners. The well established outreach program provides the opportunity for the public to be directly involved in meaningful research and recovery actions that support the strategic approaches identified in this strategy.
9 Research project referencing: Nesting ecology (Standing 1997), hatchling movement (Standing 1997, McNeil et al. 2000, Smith 2004, Camaclang 2007, unpublished data), juvenile abundance and survivorship (McMaster and Herman 2000, Morrison and McNeil 2003, Arsenault in progress), travel routes (Kydd 2010), habitat characteristics (Bourque 2006), population genetics (Mockford et al. 2005, Howes et al 2009), and predation threats (Oickle 1997, Shallow 1998, Standing et al. 2000b)
To achieve the long-term and intermediate population and distribution objectives, the following broad strategies have been identified:
- Continue to support, inform, recommend and, where possible, build on the significant public participation and partner involvement in meaningful recovery actions; engaging landowners, volunteers, Mi'kmaw communities, students, local industry, NGO's and government agencies.
- Invite, encourage, and include Mi'kmaw involvement in the recovery process to explore opportunities for different approaches and knowledge.
- Determine the extent of the range in Nova Scotia and identify population status, structure, habitat use and threats in known and any new concentrations.
- Ensure conservation of currently known critical habitats and new habitats as they are identified.
- Undertake recovery actions to increase recruitment or decrease mortality (e.g., enhance juvenile survivorship through headstarting or nest protection) in areas that have been identified and evaluate the effectiveness of these actions.
- Examine male fecundity in the population complex to determine if there is a conservation concern and continue studies to assess and maintain the genetic variation that will sustain a viable population.
- Conduct strategic monitoring of the population complex and continue refining and reassessing population modeling.
Recommended research and management approaches to implement these strategies are identified in Table 3.
Table 3. Recovery Planning Table
|Threats Addressed||Priority||Broad strategy to recovery||General Description of Research and Management Approaches|
|All||Necessary||Continue to support, inform, recommend and, where possible, build on the significant public participation and partner involvement in meaningful recovery actions.||
|All||Necessary||Invite, encourage, and include Mi'kmaw involvement in the recovery process to explore opportunities for different approaches and knowledge|
|All||Urgent||Determine the extent of the range in Nova Scotia and identify population status, structure, habitat use and threats in known and any new concentrations found.||
|Habitat destruction, fragmentation and loss; human induced mortality||Urgent||Ensure conservation of currently known critical habitats and new habitats as they are identified.||
|Vehicular mortality; increased predation due to human influences; historic mortality; small population effects||Urgent||Undertake recovery actions to increase recruitment or decrease mortality in areas that have been identified and evaluate the effectiveness of these actions||
|Low fecundity, Small population effects||Urgent||Examine male fecundity in the population complex to determine if there is a conservation concern and continue studies to assess and maintain genetic variation that will sustain a viable population||
|All||Necessary||Conduct strategic monitoring of the population complex and continue to reassess and update population models||
The overarching philosophy to recovery planning for Blanding's turtles is respect, for both the turtles and the many partners involved in recovery. Blanding's turtle recovery has always relied upon the integration of science, stewardship and recovery (Caverhill 2006, Herman et al. 1998) and on the cooperation of many partners including government, academic institutions, NGO's, aboriginal organizations, industry, volunteers and landowners. In fact, Blanding's turtles have been described as a flagship species for conservation in southwest Nova Scotia because they are well liked by the public and their recovery program presents opportunities for direct public involvement (Lefebvre 2009). This recovery strategy recognizes the importance of volunteer stewardship that directly supports the science, monitoring and recovery actions identified in Table 3. Much of the knowledge gained and recovery actions undertaken to date could not have happened without the involvement and inspiration of volunteers. Developing a strategic plan will ensure these volunteer contributions have maximum impact on recovery while minimizing disturbance to individual turtles. Engaging landowners and local communities through a variety of methods is the key to generating a local sense of ownership in recovery. Encouraging Mi'kmaq involvement in recovery may identify different types of knowledge and planning which may aid in Blanding's turtle recovery; the Mi'kmaw worldview of long-term planning (7 generations into the future) may be biologically relevant to the long lived Blanding's turtle.
Because of the long generation time of Blanding's turtles (~40 years), long term data is required to truly assess the status of the population and to assess the effectiveness of recovery actions. For example, although nest protection and headstarting efforts have been underway since the mid 1990s, this represents less than one half of one generation and several more years remain before the turtles from the earliest efforts will begin recruiting into the adult population. While intermediate assessments of success can be done in the meantime by looking at juvenile survivorship and growth, the long term data is important to truly evaluate the effect of recovery actions. If Blanding's turtles in Nova Scotia are conservation dependent, long term human intervention may be required to recover the population (NatureServ 2010).
Research activities described in Table 3 include determining the extent of the range, locating habitats, assessing male fecundity and monitoring known populations and concentrations, as well as habitats. Knowledge gained from these activities is essential to assessing population trends, identifying additional critical habitat, and recognizing threats. Identifying new areas of critical habitat is an additive process, which begins with expanding the knowledge of the species range in the province. Monitoring allows us to identify new threats and to collect important baseline data for population modeling. Appropriate monitoring frequencies will vary according to age class, location, and research question being asked. The development of a comprehensive monitoring strategy, which clearly outlines the rationale for each monitoring component, will provide appropriate frequencies to ensure all areas receive sufficient effort and avoid unnecessary sampling.
Population models, including Population Viability Analysis as well as other methods, can be useful tools to help predict the trends of a population, such as that of Blanding's turtles, for which the historical population size is unknown and for which the long generation time prevents a more direct assessment of population trends. However, those same factors which necessitate the use of the models preclude their validation; as a result these models should be used with caution and regularly updated to ensure they reflect the most current information.
Genetic assessment has shaped the direction of the recovery program. Analysis has revealed that the Nova Scotia population is an ecologically significant unit; identifying three distinct populations (Mockford et al. 1999, 2005 and 2007). Continued genetic assessment will reveal whether known and any new concentrations of turtles should be treated as distinct populations, examine gene flow, and identify potential population bottlenecks. Initial analysis of male fecundity suggests that the number of males breeding is significantly lower than other populations of Blanding's turtles (Beckett 2006, Patterson 2007). Confirmed low fecundity could mean the effective population size is considerably smaller than previously thought, affecting both population projections and potential for recovery.
- Date modified: