Searching for the Endangered Bog Turtle

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Searching for the Endangered Bog Turtle

Using eDNA in bog turtle conservation

As an avid lover of herps, perhaps you have been seeking the sight of a particular species for many months or even years. Maybe you once caught a glimpse of that elusive snake or salamander, but its presence was just a whisper in your path. The frustration you may feel when you cannot pinpoint a species’ location is shared on a larger scale by land managers. The conservation efforts of a species hinge on it being found in the first place! Luckily, Dr. JJ Apodaca, ARC’s Director of Conservation and Science, uses an advanced method that makes critical fieldwork detecting bog turtle populations more efficient.

In addition to being one of the rarest species in the United States, bog turtles are secretive and hard to track down. As bog turtles continue to disappear, it is more urgent than ever to locate them and understand their distribution to help manage healthy populations. ARC is using environmental DNA, or eDNA, to detect previously unknown bog turtle populations.

eDNA in wildlife conservation is the equivalent of fingerprinting in forensics. Surveying for bog turtles is a process that includes taking samples from the environment and transporting the sediment back to the lab for testing. The results of these tests tell biologists the very recent story of a location, including the presence of our favorite tiny turtle.

The tests can detect the presence of a bog turtle within the last two weeks without disturbing the turtles or habitat. eDNA provides a glimpse into a community that would otherwise be incredibly difficult to interpret. Dr. Apodaca and his team are collecting 400 samples from different bogs in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Finding bog turtles in the diminishing bogs is like looking for a needle in a haystack – but now, we have a magnet.

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