CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., April 22, 2016 – The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Foundation recently awarded an $83,790 grant to Southeast Missouri State University’s Department of Biology.
Southeast will use the funding to support “The Status of Alligator Snapping Turtle in West Tennessee” research project, which consists of assessing the distribution and population status of alligator snapping turtles (Macrochelys temminckii) in west Tennessee.
The initiative will allow researchers to study the largest freshwater turtles in North America, which have experienced severe declines attributed to pet trade and overconsumption by humans, said Dr. Jon Davenport, assistant professor of biology at Southeast.
“With massive declines of many species being reported globally, it is important that we conserve our natural resources for future generations,” said Davenport, who will serve as the project director for the grant. “But first we need solid baseline data from which to work. That type of data is often lacking for many species and this research will provide that information to assess this prehistoric species of concern.”
Researchers at Southeast in collaboration with Josh Ennen of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, and Rob Colvin of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, will survey all the major drainages of the Mississippi River in Tennessee over a three-year period.
The initiative will also provide employment funds for Southeast students to help collect data for the study while gaining valuable insights on careers in wildlife biology.
Southeast graduate student Dustin Garig examines his turtle bounty during a recent sampling at a west Tennessee cypress swamp.
“I’ve always believed that exposure to viewpoints of several practicing biologists is as important as a diverse skill set, and this project is a great vehicle to offer both to our students,” said Davenport. “I also strongly believe that one of the best ways to hook students in our field is to show them that you can get compensated to play outside.”
In addition to providing foundational data that is lacking on this species in Tennessee, Southeast students Andrew Feltmann of Washington, Missouri; Madison Herrboldt of Wildwood, Missouri; Caitlin Weible of Chesterfield, Missouri; and Dustin Garig of Denham Spring, Louisiana; will gain valuable hands-on field experience, Davenport said.
The research study will take place from the spring of 2016 to 2019. Every turtle will be individually marked and released to calculate population parameters to compare across populations in other states. At its conclusion, the study will provide a comprehensive distribution, population assessments of Mississippi River drainages, an assessment of the success of the past reintroduction efforts in Tennessee, and baseline information on the factors affecting movement and habitat use.
“This work is unique in that we’ve got several different entities, academic, non-profit, and a state agency, coming together with a shared interest in the conservation of this fascinating species,” said Davenport.
For more information about Southeast’s Department of Biology, visit http://www.semo.edu/biology/.