DEEP: Biggest Threat to Turtles in Connecticut: Habitat Loss and Fragmentation

December 30, 2011
 
Biggest Threat to Turtles in Connecticut: Habitat Loss and Fragmentation
2011 was the Year of the Turtle
 
As the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (DEEP) 2011 Year of the Turtle awareness campaign with Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) comes to a close, the DEEP Wildlife Division brings one of the biggest threats to turtles to the forefront – habitat loss and fragmentation.
 
“Habitat loss and fragmentation due to human development have had a harmful effect on most of Connecticut’s native turtle populations,” said Rick Jacobson, Director of the DEEP Wildlife Division. “Though most turtles live in aquatic environments, many require nearby upland habitat for their basic needs during the course of the year.  This requirement should be considered in land development decisions to keep habitats intact and avoid fragmentation.”

Like all animals, turtles need food, water, cover, and space to survive, which they find in their habitat – the place where they live.  Turtles may not be able to find enough food when their habitat is altered and will starve if they don’t move to a new area.  While searching for a new habitat, turtles may become sick or compromised due to the lack of food and could succumb to diseases.  Habitat alteration and fragmentation could also reduce the amount of cover that turtles need for protection from predators.  To make matters worse, slow-moving turtles are often killed on roads as they search for a new habitat.

Habitat loss can be the complete destruction of an ecosystem either due to paving or development.  Fragmentation occurs when the habitat is altered just enough to place turtle populations in isolation, reducing their genetic diversity.  A reduction in genetic diversity can affect the ability of the populations to respond to changes, such as contaminants or introduced species.  Areas that have lost regionally viable turtle populations may eventually face the extinction of those populations.

Extinction affects more than just the turtles – the loss of any natural population can have a profound effect on biological diversity, or biodiversity.  Biodiversity is necessary for maintaining such “quality of life” aspects as clean air, clean water, and pollination, not to mention aesthetic and cultural values.

“Humans cause the greatest harm to turtle populations,” added Jacobson.  “But, we have the power to make positive changes toward turtle survival.”

The future of turtles relies on the conservation of large, unfragmented areas that are a mosaic of protected areas and privately-owned lands.  This is best accomplished by citizens taking action at the local level to reduce habitat loss and fragmentation in their communities.

“One of the best ways that Connecticut residents can help turtles and other wildlife is to become involved at some level with the local boards and commissions that make land-use decisions and encourage the wise use and protection of habitat connections,” said Jenny Dickson, Supervising Wildlife Biologist with the DEEP Wildlife Division.  This topic was the focus of an article that was printed in the November/December 2011 issue of DEEP’s Connecticut Wildlife magazine (www.ct.gov/deep/wildlifemagazine).

Although the Year of the Turtle campaign is coming to a close at the end of 2011, the DEEP Wildlife Division and PARC will continue their efforts to increase awareness of the issues facing turtles, as well as other reptiles and amphibians.  To learn more about Connecticut’s native turtles, visit the DEEP’s “Year of the Turtle” Web page at www.ct.gov/dep/yearofturtle. You also can visit PARCs Web site at www.yearoftheturtle.org.