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Sustaining Forests

Movement Patterns of Wood Turtles Using Genetic Approaches

Research Issue

[photo:] Female wood turtle. Photo by Joel Flory. Used with permission.Conservation efforts for disconnected populations can be improved with information on broad-scale dispersal movement patterns. Using landscape genetic approaches can identify movement patterns by characterizing population structure and linking this structure spatially with landscape features. Wood Turtles (Glyptemys insculpta) are a species of concern due to reported range-wide population declines. The western Great Lakes population is disconnected from the larger northeastern population.  The western population is found primarily in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, and consists of small, isolated population distributed patchily across the landscape. An isolated population exists in Iowa. Previous genetic research in this region showed evidence of lower allelic richness and heterozygosity indicating spatial isolation, but sampling was limited. The loss of genetic diversity has major implications on species persistence, and identifying potential landscape barriers to movement, and thus, gene flow, is imperative.

Our Research

In spring of 2015, we began a study to identify population spatial structure across the Great Lakes Region. Our objective is to determine the extent of gene flow in the Upper Midwest between spatially separated populations using landscape genetic approaches. We expect river ways to be dispersal corridors, as Wood Turtles have been found to stay near running water during summer months when they are primarily terrestrial. Landscape genetics examines the relationships between landscape pattern and spatial distribution of genetic variability to understand how geographical and environmental features impact genetic variation within and among populations and individuals. Combining genetic data with landscape variables will enable us to determine potential movement corridors and barriers, and evaluate functional connectivity.  Our results will contribute to range-wide conservation genetic research being completed by collaborators.

Expected Outcomes

Results from our study will contribute range-wide conservation genetic research being completed by our partners.  Understanding spatial genetic diversity can lead to identifying small and large-scale movement patterns that can be incorporated into federal and state conservation strategies and action plans to help conserve this declining species.

Research Results

Brown, Donald J.; Nelson, Mark D.; Rugg, David J.; Buech, Richard R.; Donner, Deahn M. 2016. Spatial and temporal habitat-use patterns of wood turtles at the western edge of their distribution. Journal of Herpetology. 50(3): 347-356.

Donner, Deahn M.; Marquardt, Paula; Brown, Donald. Landscape Genetics and wood turtles. 76th Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference, January 24-27, 2016, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Deahn M. Donner, US Forest Service, Northern Research Station - Landscape Ecologist
  • Paula Marquardt, US Forest Service, Northern Research Station - Research Plant Geneticist

Research Partners

  • Andrew Whiteley and Dana Sheedy, College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana
  • Donald J. Brown, School of Natural Resources, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia
  • Jeff Tamplin, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, Iowa
  • Ron Moen, Swenson College of Science and Engineering, University of Minnesota Duluth, Duluth, Minnesota
  • Carly Lapin, Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Rhinelander, Wisconsin

Last Modified: November 22, 2016