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UWRF student and professor team up to conduct research on turtles

October 12, 2016

To do her part to save the endangered species she loves, one UW-River Falls student has teamed up with a professor to change the way that a fragile ecosystem is treated.

The idea to do research on turtles came from Crystal Carpenter, a junior field biology major at UWRF, who said that she has always had an interest in turtles.

“I just wanted to do it because I love turtles and I want to work with turtles for the rest of my life,” said Carpenter. “And it’s important to get that word out about endangered species.”

Carpenter approached Kevyn Juneau, assistant professor of conservation and environmental science at UWRF, to help her with the research. Juneau is part of Ecological Research as Education Network (EREN), a network of faculty members from primarily undergraduate institutions with the goal to “create a model for collaborate ecological research that generates high-quality, publishable data involving undergraduate students and faculty,” according to the EREN website.

Juneau said that one of the projects that EREN is currently involved in is called the TurtlePop Project, a research project that studies the effect that urbanization has on turtle population and sex ratios.

“She came to me not really with a well hashed out idea, but she knew she wanted to work with turtles and I just happened to be part of this network, so it worked pretty nicely,” said Juneau.

According to the EREN website, roughly 45 percent of freshwater turtle populations are listed as threatened in the 2000 International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of Threatened Species.

“Science has shown that urbanization is leading to a skewed sex ratio [among turtles]. So there’s more males than females in urbanized areas,” said Juneau. “That’s because the females are leaving the ponds to go nest and they might get hit by the car.”

For the summer research, Carpenter and Juneau set up traps at five different ponds throughout the area including Lake George, Lake Louise and the pond in the horse pasture at UWRF. The traps were set up for three days and checked every 24 hours in order to catch turtles.

Once caught, the two would mark the turtles, identity them, measure the turtles weight and length of the shells and identify the sex of the turtle. They would then let the turtles go with the hope of catching the same turtles as the research goes on to measure how the turtles grow throughout the years. According to Juneau, the two caught and marked about 20 turtles throughout the summer.

During this research, Carpenter and Juneau also looked at water quality and nutrients along with invasive plants in order to see exactly how these factors affect the turtle populations in the different ponds.

With turtles being on the endangered list, Carpenter said it is more important than ever to figure out what is causing the dwindling population and how to confront it.

“With people knowing what is happening, it can help the species repopulate. If we take down the amount of cars going around, that can take away the amount of turtles getting hit and in that way the females can lay eggs,” said Carpenter. “It’s important to me because they are an important part of the ecosystem.”

While the research was only done during the summer months, Juneau and Carpenter plan to continue with the research every summer to see how the turtle population and sex ratio has changed over the years. They will be presenting the data that they have collected so far at the Upper Midwest Invasive Species Conference that will take place from Oct. 16-19 and the 2016 St. Croix River Research Rendezvous on Oct. 18. Carpenter will also be presenting the research at the Fall Gala on Dec. 13 at UWRF.