Saturday, March 12, 2011

Musk Turtles & Their Habitat

Common Musk Turtle, Stenotherous odoratus
Musk turtles, Sternotherous odoratus (family Kinosternidae), are highly aquatic and are  rarely observed basking on branches or shorelines (ariel basking) which is typical of most freshwater turtles. Instead, musk turtles bask while floating at the surface of the water under or in aquatic vegetation. Gabriel Picard and colleagues expected aquatic habitats with surface cover of emergent aquatic vegetation such as lily pads or other  floating macrophytes to be of higher thermal quality than other aquatic habitats devoid of such cover. They examined musk turtles preferentially use of these high thermal quality habitats in the St. Lawrence River (Ontario, Canada). The study area was along the southeastern shore of Grenadier Island. The turtles were captured by hand and 22 adult musk turtles were fitted with temperaturesensitive radio-transmitters. They found habitats with the highest thermal quality were the ones with surface cover, such as lily pads, followed by shallow water. As expected, musk turtles used habitats non-randomly and had a strong preference for thermally superior habitats. This is consistent with the typical aquatic basking behaviour observed in musk turtles, suggesting that there is a strong link between thermal quality of habitats and habitat selection, even in this almost entirely aquatic turtle. The authors note the importance of protecting natural shoreline habitats because they possess more emergent and aquatic vegetation than developed shorelines, a habitat structure that is crucial to musk turtles.

Picard, G., M.-A. Carrière, G. Blouin-Demers. 2011. Common Musk Turtles (Sternotherus odoratus) select habitats of high thermal quality at the northern extreme of their range. Amphibia-Reptilia 32 (2011): 83-92.

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