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Understanding the decline of an urban turtle species: the critical role of combining ecological and social research

Bartholomaeus, Caitlin Jane (2016) Understanding the decline of an urban turtle species: the critical role of combining ecological and social research. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Wildlife populations in urban environments face increasingly diverse pressures. Varying environmental conditions and human behaviours influence the persistence of populations. This study investigates the advantages and limitations of using ecological, social research and citizen science concurrently to develop a holistic understanding of declining populations of the freshwater turtle Chelodina colliei in the urban environment of Perth, Western Australia.

Ecological methods assessed population size and demographics using mark-recapture over three trap seasons and environmental conditions in five natural and seven anthropogenic wetlands, and their upland environments. Less than 27 C. colliei individuals were captured in 80% of wetlands; the combined function of depauperate populations, human impacts on turtle behaviour and trapping efficacy. Environmental conditions significantly differed between natural and anthropogenic wetlands, with reduced resource provision leading to a significantly smaller population size, particularly of juveniles, females and older sexually mature turtles in anthropogenic wetlands. However, the heterogeneity of wetlands confounded identification of ecological drivers of turtle demography.

Social research, using a survey of local residents (n=1842, response rate 21.2%), found that people around wetlands had positive attitudes towards C. colliei and wetlands, but their knowledge regarding C. colliei was poor, increasing the likelihood of negative interactions. Citizen science and community data identified that human/C. colliei encounters were with adult and female turtles and occurred within 500m of a wetland. Citizen science/community data and ecological research concurred that C. colliei movements reflected seasonal temperature and rainfall patterns.

The benefits of a multi-disciplinary approach to urban ecological research and the value of concurrently using citizen science and social research to understand the effect of human-wildlife interactions in urban areas was demonstrated. When populations are at the brink of extinction, insufficient data and prohibitive cost (time/money) may constrain ecological research. Citizen science, social research and community data can offset this by increasing availability of both temporal and spatial data, providing greater breadth of understanding and a more complete picture of wildlife populations in urban environments.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Supervisor: Chambers, Jane and Baudains, C.
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