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Tuesday, January 26 • 3:40pm - 4:00pm
Behavioral Responses of Eastern Box Turtles Terrapene Carolina Carolina To Prescribed Fire and Implications For Management

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AUTHORS: Tracy Swem, Michigan State University; Alicia Ihnken, Michigan DNR; Gary Roloff, Michigan State University

ABSTRACT: It is generally accepted that Eastern box turtles are declining range wide. Land management activities typically conducted before the growing season, such as prescribed fire, may be exacerbating the decline of already fragmented populations by causing direct mortality from intense, fast moving fires. Suitable fire weather in the spring also tends to correspond with the timing of box turtle emergence from winter hibernacula. We hypothesized that slower, growing season fires may allow turtles to evade advancing flame fronts during their active season while simultaneously achieving vegetative goals. Our objectives were to determine if adult box turtles exhibited evasive behavior associated with a growing season prescribed fire within a southwestern Michigan recreation area. Radio-tagged animals (6 females, 6 males) were located 12 hours before ignition. Once ignition occurred, researchers located individuals within the path of the advancing fire and remained 10-20 meters away to observe behavior as the flame front approached. Direct behavior was observed for individuals subjected to the flame front (3 females, 1 male); the other 8 turtles were either in unburnable areas or outside burn boundaries. All but one individual subjected to the flame front exhibited evasive, actionable maneuvers when the flame was 10-20 meters away and without smoke signaling, included negotiating multiple flame fronts and completely burying into mineral soil. Within the burn unit, all adult research animals were in cryptic locations 12 hours after extinguishment, and in water or wetlands 24 hours after the fire was extinguished. Understanding direct and indirect behavioral effects of growing season fires on this species has important implications for the sustained use of fire vegetation types of southern Michigan associated with box turtles.

Tuesday January 26, 2016 3:40pm - 4:00pm EST
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