AdoptAPond > Urban Turtle Initiative
Over the past 10 years, the Toronto Zoo's Adopt-A-Pond Wetland Conservation Programme has undertaken a series of research projects, as a collective entitled the Urban Turtle Initiative, to learn more about what species of turtles live in the Rouge Valley, when and how they travel through their habitat, and how they use the landscape to survive. Many of the turtles that live in our watershed are Species at Risk, protected by both Federal and Provincial legislation.
During our study we have captured Painted turtles, Snapping turtles, Northern Map turtles and Blanding's turtles. To find out what habitats they were living in, we used radio telemetry to track their daily movements. By attaching a small (6-20 gram) radio transmitter to the shell of each turtle, we can follow them by "tuning in" to the radio signal emitted from their transmitter. Over the course of 10 years we have radio tracked a total of 11 Snapping turtles (Coco, Tinkerbell, Peter Pan, Abetzi, M.J., Winnie, Wanda, Xena, Franklin, Storm and Rocky), 7 Blanding's turtles (Bobbers, Clementine, Lucky, Colin, Raymond, Irene and Brooke NASCAR), and 3 Northern Map turtles (Mikey, Tasha, Andrea) within the valley.
Meet some of the UTI turtles.
The turtles led us to their foraging areas, overwintering areas, nesting areas, and their travel routes in between. We found that the home range size for Snapping turtles was linear along the rivers, covering, on average, a 2 km stretch. Blanding's turtles moved in a less linear fashion covering an average of 15 hectares throughout the valley wetlands, while Northern Map turtles had an even larger non-linear home range size of about 25 hectares! Within these home ranges were a variety of habitats to suit the turtles' different needs. Both Snapping turtles and Northern Map turtles spent over fifty percent of their time in rivers, while Blanding's turtles frequented marsh habitats most of the time, and pond habitats as a close second. One female Blanding's turtle moved over 2 kilometres up the Rouge River to a nesting site she used for three consecutive years!
It is always interesting to see what different types of habitats different species will use; it also tells us how much space we need to protect if we expect to sustain a stable population of turtles. Luckily the turtles of the Rouge Valley have a large area of protected spaces in which to move about, but that doesn't make them immune to outside pressures. Living in an urban area exposes our turtles to a number of challenges aside from habitat loss, including increased predator populations, road mortality, collection by humans, and manmade barriers that limit movement along travel routes. We continue to monitor our urban turtles to see how they are impacted as changes take place in the Rouge Valley.
Although the Urban Turtle Initiative is largely research based, we encourage people to get involved with turtle conservation through Ontario Turtle Tally, one of our citizen naturalist programs. More information on Ontario Turtle Tally can be found by following the link on the side bar or clicking here: Ontario Turtle Tally.