Northern map turtle (Graptemys geographica): proposed management plan 2015
Management Plan Series
Species at Risk Act
Northern Map Turtle
Photo: © Environment Canada, 2015
Table of Contents
- Document Information
- Executive Summary
- 1. COSEWIC Species Assessment Information
- 2. Species Status Information
- 3. Species Information
- 4. Threats
- 5. Management Objective
- 6. Broad Strategies and Conservation Measures
- 7. Measuring Progress
- 8. References
- Appendix A: Subnational Conservation Ranks of the Northern Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica) in Canada and the United States
- Appendix B: Effects on the Environment and Other Species
Cover illustration: © Parks Canada Agency
Environment Canada. 2015. Management Plan for the Northern Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica) in Canada [Proposed]. Species at Risk Act Management Plan Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa. xx+ XXpp.
For copies of the management plan, or for additional information on species at risk, including COSEWIC Status Reports, residence descriptions, action plans, and other related recovery documents, please visit the (Species at Risk Public Registry)
Content (excluding the illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.
The federal, provincial, and territorial government signatories under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk (1996) agreed to establish complementary legislation and programs that provide for effective protection of species at risk throughout Canada. Under the Species at Risk Act (S.C. 2002, c.29) (SARA), the federal competent ministers are responsible for the preparation of management plans for listed species of special concern and are required to report on progress five years after the publication of the final document on the SAR public registry.
The Minister of the Environment and the Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency is the competent minister for the recovery of Northern Map Turtle and has prepared this management plan, as per section 65 of SARA. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with the Province of Ontario (Ministry of Natural Resources and ForestryFootnote1) and the Province of Quebec (Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs).
Success in the conservation of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this plan and will not be achieved by Environment Canada, the Parks Canada Agency or any other jurisdiction alone. All Canadians are invited to join in supporting and implementing this plan for the benefit of the Northern Map Turtle and Canadian society as a whole.
Implementation of this management plan is subject to appropriations, priorities, and budgetary constraints of the participating jurisdictions and organizations.
This document was developed by Rachel deCatanzaro, Krista Holmes, Kari Van Allen, Angela McConnell, Lee Voisin and Bruna Peloso (Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service - Ontario Region); and Barbara Slezak, Carollynne Smith , and Louis Gagnon (formerly Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service - Ontario Region). The management plan benefited from input, review and suggestions from the following individuals: Madeline Austen, Elizabeth Rezek, Lesley Dunn (Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service - Ontario Region); Paul Johanson (Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service - National Capital Region); Gabrielle Fortin, Sylvain Giguère (Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service - Quebec Region); Gary Allen and Joanne Tuckwell (Parks Canada Agency); Amelia Argue, Joe Crowley, Vivian Brownell, Gillianne Marshall, Aileen Wheeldon, Sandy Dobbyn, Corina Brdar, Graham Cameron, Megan Rasmussen, Valerie Vaillancourt, Eric Cobb, Nicki Boucher, Gillian Ferguson-Martin, Jay Fitzsimmons, Dana Kinsman, Jim Saunders, Dr. Brian Naylor and Rhonda Donley (Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry); and staff from the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs. Many other individuals contributed to an earlier version of the draft Recovery Strategy and Management Plan for Five Species of Freshwater Turtles in Canada which contained information on Northern Map Turtle, including Patrick Galois (Amphibia-Nature), Sylvain Giguère and Gabrielle Fortin (Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service - Quebec Region), David Seburn (Seburn Ecological Services), and Scott Gillingwater (Upper Thames River Conservation Authority). Contributions from staff at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry; Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs; Canadian Wildlife Service; and various universities and other organizations are also gratefully acknowledged. This management plan also benefitted from earlier draft recovery documents developed by the Équipe de rétablissement des tortues du Québec, and the Ontario Multi-Species Turtles at Risk Recovery Team.
Acknowledgement and thanks are given to all other parties that provided advice and input used to help inform the development of this management plan including various Aboriginal organizations and individual citizens, and stakeholders who provided input and/or participated in consultation meetings.
The Northern Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica) is listed as Special Concern on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA). It is a highly aquatic species that ventures onto land only to nest and bask. The species has a relatively rounded carapaceFootnote2 which is olive to brownish in colour with a pattern of light yellow lines. During the active season (spring to fall), the Northern Map Turtle is generally found in well oxygenated, large bodies of water such as rivers and lakes.
The species occurs throughout the northeastern United States and into southern Ontario and southern Quebec. Approximately 10% of the global range of Northern Map Turtle occurs in Canada.
The Canadian adult population of Northern Map Turtle is estimated to be over 10,000 individuals. Although a range contraction of the Northern Map Turtle in Canada has not been documented, an analysis of recent data indicates a lack of species’ observations since 1985 at 53% of sites containing historical occurrences. Some local populations show a trend toward an older age distribution, which may foreshadow a population decline.
The main threats to the Canadian population of Northern Map Turtle are shoreline development, boating mortality and fishing bycatch. Other threats identified include road networks, water control structures, illegal collection, human- subsidized predators, disturbance from human activities, exotic and invasive species, contamination and nutrient loading, and climate change. The Northern Map Turtle is highly vulnerable to any increases in rates of mortality of adults or older juveniles because individuals of this species have delayed sexual maturity and slow reproductive rates.
The distribution and abundance of the Canadian population of Northern Map Turtle is not currently known but it is suspected to be in decline. Therefore, the management objective for the Northern Map Turtle is to stabilize population levels and thereafter maintain the distribution and abundance of the Canadian population of Northern Map Turtle through threat reduction and mitigation as well as habitat management.
1. COSEWICFootnote3Species Assessment Information
- Date of Assessment:
- November 2012
- Common Name (population):
- Northern Map Turtle
- Scientific Name:
- Graptemys geographica
- COSEWIC Status:
- Special Concern
- Reason for Designation:
- There have been no quantitative, long-term studies of this species in Canada and, therefore, there is limited evidence of recent declines, range contraction or local extirpation of the species. However, the species’ long-lived life history with delayed age of maturity and the potential threats to its habitat suggest that it is susceptible to population decline. Significant threats include direct mortality from collisions with motor boats and from commercial fisheries bycatch. Loss and degradation of shoreline habitat is another threat because this wary turtle is readily disturbed by human activity and boating, and shoreline developments interfere with the species’ basking and nesting behaviour. Unnaturally high predation of nests by mammalian predators, especially raccoons, is another threat. If not ameliorated, these threats combined with the species’ life history will cause the species to become Threatened in Canada.
- Canadian Occurrence:
- Ontario and Québec
- COSEWIC Status History:
- Designated Special Concern in May 2002. Status re-examined and confirmed in November 2012.
2. Species Status Information
The Northern Map Turtle is listed as a species of Special ConcernFootnote4 on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) (S.C. 2002, ch. 29). In Ontario, the species is listed as Special ConcernFootnote5 under the Endangered Species Act, 2007 (S.O. 2007, ch.6) (ESA) and is designated as a Specially Protected Reptile under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (S.O. 1997, c.41). In Quebec, it has been listed as VulnerableFootnote6under the Act Respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species (ARTVS) since 2005 (C.Q.L.R., ch. E-12.01). The Northern Map Turtle is also listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES 2014).
The global rank for Northern Map Turtle is Secure (G5). It is considered Nationally Vulnerable (N3) in Canada and Nationally Secure in the United States (N5). In Quebec, the species is ranked as Imperiled (S2). In Ontario, it is Vulnerable (S3) (NatureServe 2013) (Appendix A). The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the species as being of Least ConcernFootnote7 globally (IUCN 2014).
Approximately 10% of the global range of Northern Map Turtle is in Canada (Seburn 2007).
3. Species Information
3.1. Species Description
The Northern Map Turtle is a medium-sized, highly aquatic turtle, with a maximum shell length of 16 cm for males and 27.3 cm for females (Ernst and Lovich 2009). This species is sexually dimorphicFootnote8: the maximum adult female carapaceFootnote9 length greatly exceeds that of males, adult males are usually only 20% of the mass of adult females (Vogt 1980), and adult males have brighter postorbitalFootnote10spots than adult females (Bulté et al. 2013). The species has a relatively rounded carapace with a medial keel (ridge). The carapace is olive to brownish in colour with a reticulate (resembles a net or network) pattern of light yellow lines that fade as the turtle ages. When first described, the pattern on the carapace of the Northern Map Turtle was thought to resemble a geographical map, hence the species’ name. The plastron (bottom shell) is light yellow to cream in colour and is usually unmarked. Its head, neck, and limbs are olive to brown-black with yellow to greenish-yellow stripes. Northern Map Turtles may live over 20 years in the wild (Ernst and Lovich 2009).
3.2. Population and Distribution
The Northern Map Turtle’s North American range extends from southern Ontario and southern Quebec in the north to Mississippi and Alabama in the south, west to Minnesota, Kansas, and Oklahoma and east to Virginia and North Carolina, with isolated populations in New York and Maryland (NatureServe 2013) (Figure 1). In Canada, the species’ range occurs mainly in the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence basin - from Lake St. Clair in Ontario to l’Île d’Orléans in Quebec (COSEWIC 2012).
The distribution and abundance of the Canadian population of the Northern Map Turtle is currently not fully known but is suspected to be in decline (COSEWIC 2012). In Ontario, Northern Map Turtle occurrences are scattered along the shores of Georgian Bay, Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario, and along six major rivers. It is also widely distributed in the lakes, rivers, and waterways of the Canadian Shield in south-eastern and central Ontario (COSEWIC 2012). In Quebec, the species occurs along four major rivers, in the St. Lawrence River, as well as in Lac des Deux Montagnes, Lake St. Francis, Lake St. Louis, and in Lake Champlain (Bonin 1998; Bernier et al.2008, 2009; COSEWIC 2012). According to genetic sampling conducted by Bouchard et al. (2013), local populations in Quebec seem to be organized into metapopulations based on location.
The total abundance of Northern Map Turtles in Canada is unknown, but may be over 10,000 adults based on preliminary estimates at some locations (COSEWIC 2012). In Lake Opinicon on the Rideau Waterway, Ontario, the population has been estimated at over 1,500 turtles (Bulté et al.2010). Lake Opinicon is relatively small (788 ha), and there is potential for some of the other lakes along the waterway to hold similar or larger populations of Northern Map Turtles (COSEWIC 2012). A number of additional studies have resulted in abundance estimates for local populations of Northern Map Turtles. For example, the population around Grenadier Island at the Thousand Islands National Park, Ontario was estimated to consist of over 600 individuals (Millar 2009). The populations at three sites (2 in Quebec, 1 in Ontario) along the Ontario-Quebec border likely consist of 500 to 1,000 individuals each (COSEWIC 2012).
Population trends are lacking for the Northern Map Turtle in Canada. However, it is suspected that the species may be in decline in some parts of its Canadian range due to a number of threats that increase mortality and decrease reproductive success (COSEWIC 2012).
The area of occupancyFootnote11 of the Northern Map Turtle in Canada is estimated to be greater than 2,000 km² (COSEWIC 2012).
Figure 1. North American Range of the Northern Map Turtle (adapted from Royal Ontario Museum [ROM] 2012). This map represents the general range of the species, and does not depict detailed information on the presence and absence of observations within the range. Please refer to the text for further details on the distribution of the species in Ontario and Quebec.
Long description for Figure 1
Figure 1 shows the North American range of the species. It is found near Quebec City, as well as near Montreal and further south. It continues down through Ontario to the southern tip of the province. In the United-States, the species is located in Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia.
3.3. Needs of the Northern Map Turtle
General Habitat Needs
The Northern Map Turtle relies primarily on aquatic habitat, and makes limited use of terrestrial habitat for nesting and basking. In the northern portion of their range, Northern Map Turtles typically inhabit well oxygenated bodies of water such as small to major rivers with slow to moderate flows, and lakes (COSEWIC 2012). Within lake habitats, the species tends to utilize areas with undeveloped shorelines or marshy habitats (Gillingwater and Brooks 2001; Gillingwater and Piraino 2004; Tran et al. 2007; Harrison 2011). In lakes occurring on the Canadian Shield, Northern Map Turtle utilizes rocky open shorelines and shoals, rock islands and substrates as well as muck substrate (Laverty pers. comm. 2012 in COSEWIC 2012). Within river habitats, the species tends to inhabit areas where moderate flow and turbidity are maintained (COSEWIC 2012). In most rivers, Northern Map Turtles tend to avoid areas where the water is less transparent (COSEWIC 2012). During the active season (April to October), individuals prefer shallow waters and generally avoid waters greater than 2.5 m deep (Tran et al. 2007; Bernier and Rouleau 2010; Carrière and Blouin-Demers 2010; COSEWIC 2012). Adult females have been observed passing through deep water more often than juveniles and males, possibly due to differences in diet and because their larger body size makes them better swimmers (Pluto and Bellis 1986; Carrière and Blouin-Demers 2010; Bernier and Rouleau 2010). The Northern Map Turtle requires suitable basking sites, such as partially submerged rocks and logs and exposed banks that are adjacent to deep water (COSEWIC 2012).
Northern Map Turtles favour natural shoreline environments and have home ranges primarily in shallow waters near shore; therefore, individuals of this species are sensitive to shoreline development and other activities that alter shoreline habitats (Carrière and Blouin-Demers 2010).
Overwintering sites for the Northern Map Turtle are typically deep, oxygen-rich lake or river bottoms that are sheltered from ice, with sand or gravel substrate and varied bottom features, such as exposed ledges, boulders, and tree trunks (Flaherty 1982; Bonin 1998; Graham et al. 2000; Ultsch 2006; Carrière 2007). Graham et al. (2000) describe the overwintering site at their study area as having very slow current; however, the presence of current has been observed at other overwintering sites (Bernier and Rouleau 2010). Northern Map Turtles have been recorded hibernating at depths between 0.3 m and 11.3 m (Bernier and Rouleau 2010; Harrison 2011; Rouleau and Bernier 2011). This species requires an oxygen-rich environment for over-wintering as they are relatively intolerant of anoxicFootnote12 environments (Ultsch 2006).
Northern Map Turtles have been noted to hibernate both singly or communally with other Northern Map Turtles (Graham and Graham 1992; Carrière et al. 2006; Harrison 2011). Individual Northern Map Turtles have been known to congregate at the same overwintering sites year after year, which suggests they prefer overwintering site features that are not widely available throughout their home range, for example, sites that are well-oxygenated throughout the winter (Graham et al. 2000; Ultsch 2006; Carrière 2007).
Northern Map Turtles must survive exposure to subfreezing temperatures by supercoolingFootnote13, a strategy to avoid the freezing of body fluids (Baker et al. 2003). Northern Map Turtle hatchlings may overwinter within the nest (Gillingwater and Brooks 2001; Baker et al. 2003; Gillingwater and Piraino 2004; Nagle et al. 2004; Ernst and Lovich 2009; Fournier pers. comm. 2014). However, Nagle et al. (2004) report that overwintering is only possible for hatchlings, not for eggs or partially developed embryos; turtle embryos that fail to complete development before winter die in their nests.
Courtship and mating occur in the water, both in spring and autumn while the turtles are congregated at the overwintering site (COSEWIC 2002; Ernst and Lovich 2009). Individual females can store sperm from single mating events in the fall for later use should a spring mating event not take place (Miller and Dinkelacker 2007). A large proportion of clutches laid by female Northern Map Turtles have been found to be sired by multiple males, which indicates that, similar to other freshwater turtle species, promiscuity is a common reproductive strategy in this species (Banger et al. 2013).
According to Ernst and Lovich (2009), details of this turtle’s maturation are unknown, but some reports suggest that females reach sexual maturity around 12 to 14 years of age or when they reach a carapace diameter of approximately 19 cm (Newman 1906; Vogt 1980; Bulté and Blouin-Demers 2009). A growth model based on captures from Lake Opinicon estimates maturity age to be 14 years for females and 4 years for males (Bulté and Blouin-Demers 2008).
In Canada, the nesting period lasts anywhere from early May to early July (Gordon and MacCulloch 1980; Gillingwater and Brooks 2001; Gillingwater and Piraino 2004; Barrett Beehler 2007; Browne and Hecnar 2007; Carrière 2007; Rouleau and Bernier 2011). Northern Map Turtle clutch size ranges from 3 to 22 eggs (Gillingwater and Brooks 2001; Ryan and Linderman 2007), with an average between 9 to 17 eggs (Carr 1952; Gordon and MacCulloch 1980; Gillingwater and Brooks 2001). Observations in Ontario have confirmed that females may lay two clutches during the active season (Carrière et al.2006). Hatchlings begin to emerge from the nest in early August and move to lake bottom sediments (Gillingwater and Brooks 2001). Some hatchlings may overwinter in the nest and emerge the following spring between May and July (Gillingwater and Brooks 2001; Baker et al. 2003; Gillingwater and Piraino 2004; Nagle et al.2004; Ernst and Lovich 2009).
To lay their eggs, individual Northern Map Turtles seek areas near water, where the vegetation density and the slope are low (< 30°) and the substrate is most commonly composed of gravel or sand, but may also have large components of organic matter and clay (Flaherty and Bider 1984; Chabot et al. 1993; Nagle et al. 2004; Giguère et al. 2005; Barrett Beehler 2007). Northern Map Turtles prefer to nest in open locations receiving full sun (Nagle et al. 2004; Barrett Beehler 2007), and actively avoid wet sand during nesting (Vogt 1980). Nesting generally occurs within 3 to 35 m of the water’s edge (Gillingwater and Pirano 2004; Barrett Beehler 2007; Bernier and Rouleau 2010). Northern Map Turtles utilize a number of different nesting habitats, including (but not limited to) sand beaches and dunes (Gillingwater and Brooks 2002; Gillingwater and Piraino 2004), gravel piers and old quarries (Bernier and Rouleau 2010; Rouleau and Bernier 2011), rocky outcrops with thin soil deposits (Barrett Beehler 2007; Litzgus pers. comm. 2012 in COSEWIC 2012), as well as maintained sites (e.g. along highways containing fill material, gardens, and golf courses) (Baker et al. 2003; Nagle et al. 2004; Harrison 2011).
Baker et al. (2003) noted that Northern Map Turtles nested in close proximity to each other, and many returned to within a few metres of the same location each year. Carrière (2007) reported a high fidelityFootnote14 to nesting sites, with some females traveling up to 5 km to nest.
Turtles regulate their body temperature using the surrounding environment: they are able to modify or maintain their temperature by varying their exposure to sun (known as basking), shade and water (Bulté and Blouin-Demers 2010a). Northern Map Turtles usually use stationary objects for basking, including fallen trees, exposed rocks, or areas such as exposed banks on land (Logier 1939, Gordon and MacCulloch 1980, Daigle et al. 1994, Bernier and Rouleau 2010) or mats of aquatic vegetation at the surface of the water (Gillingwater and Brooks 2001; Gillingwater and Piraino 2004; Bulté et al. 2010). Basking sites tend to be adjacent to water that is deeper than average for the area (Gordon and MacCulloch 1980). They typically have an easterly exposure but are not obviously protected from west winds (Gordon and MacCulloch 1980; Flaherty and Bider 1984; Ernst and Lovich 2009; Bernier and Rouleau 2010; Gillingwater pers. comm. 2012). This species often basks in groups (Gordon and MacCulloch 1980; Flaherty and Bider 1984; Ernst and Lovich 2009; Bernier and Rouleau 2010; Gillingwater pers. comm. 2012). Some studies have noted incidences of 10 - 60 turtles using the same basking site (Richards and Seigel 2009; Bernier and Rouleau 2010; Gooley et al. 2011; Chianucci 2013).
The Northern Map Turtle’s basking activities tend to start in April, right after emerging from winter dormancy (Ernst and Lovich 2009). Gordon and MacCulloch (1980) reported the number of turtles observed basking in Lac des Deux Montagnes (Quebec) reached a peak in mid-May, and noted a large decrease starting in early July. In Canada, basking activity has been observed on warm sunny days until November (Beck pers. comm. 2011 in COSEWIC 2012; Kruschenske pers. comm. 2011 in COSEWIC 2012). There has been a noted difference in basking behavior between male and female Northern Map Turtles. Mature females tend to bask more frequently during and after the nesting season, compared to males and juvenile females (Gordon and MacCulloch 1980; Bulté 2009; Bulté and Blouin-Demers 2010b).
The Northern Map Turtle is a specialized carnivore, feeding primarily on molluscs (bivalves, snails); insects and crayfish are also important food sources for the species (Ernst and Lovich 2009; COSEWIC 2012). Northern Map Turtles have been observed diving underwater and moving along vegetation to find snails and clams (Vogt 1981). Foraging habitat has been observed to be primarily in shallow water close to shore (Bulté et al. 2008). A study of one Lake Erie population of Northern Map Turtle found that females fed more heavily on molluscs and males fed more heavily on insects (Lindeman 2006). Multiple studies have found that the diet of juvenile females more closely resembles an adult male’s diet, and that females prefer a more specialized diet as adults (Lindman 2006; Bulté et al. 2008; Richards-Dimitrie et al. 2013). In studies conducted in Canada and the United States, Lindeman (2006) and Bulté and Blouin-Demers (2008) reported adult female Northern Map Turtles preferring to feed almost exclusively on invasive Zebra (Dreissena polymorpha) and Quagga mussels (Dreissena bugensis), instead of a more varied diet. The invasive molluscs appear to have replaced not only native molluscs, but other non-molluscan taxa as well, in the diet of Northern Map Turtles.
Movement (commuting and dispersal)Footnote15
Northern Map Turtles regularly move between different aquatic habitat types to access regularly or seasonally required resources (e.g. nesting sites, overwintering sites, food sources). As a result, it is important that the different habitats Northern Map Turtles use are linked, or in reasonable proximity to one another, so that individuals can move between these habitats easily to meet their life cycle needs. The Northern Map Turtle will undertake seasonal migrations through water to find suitable habitats in response to seasonal changes in water current, depth and substrate (Gordon and MacCulloch 1980; Pluto and Bellis 1988; Laverty pers. comm. 2012 in COSEWIC 2012; Urquhart pers. comm. 2012 in COSEWIC 2012). Their movement patterns will vary depending on the availability of basking, nesting, overwintering, and foraging sites (COSEWIC 2002).
Home range sizes vary greatly between individuals, ranging between 20 to 385 ha (average 120 to 347 ha) for males and 47 to 1450 ha (average 160 to 1347 ha) for females, and an average of 160 to 1037 ha for juvenile females (Carrière et al. 2009; Bernier and Rouleau 2010). Home range length has been noted to range from 2.2 to 24 km, with adult males having shorter home range lengths (3.5 to 7.8 km) than adult females (2.2 to 24 km) (Tessier and Lapointe 2009; Rouleau and Bernier 2011). This difference is thought to be due in part to the female’s need to locate nesting habitat (Carrière 2007). It also appears that females have a high fidelity to their home ranges (Carrière 2007). Distance travelled throughout the active season differs according to the type of waterbody inhabited. In a lenticFootnote16environment, adult females have been noted to travel an average of 149 m/day while those in loticFootnote17 environments travel an average of 315 m/day (Carrière et al. 2009).
3.4. Biological Limiting Factors
Most turtles, including Northern Map Turtle, have certain common life history traits that can limit their ability to adapt to high levels of disturbance and that help explain their susceptibility to population declines (Congdon et al. 1993; Gibbons et al. 2000; Turtle Conservation Fund 2002). They have a reproductive strategy that depends on high adult survival rates to counterbalance the low recruitment rates because of:
- short reproductive window due to late sexual maturity (12 to 14 years for females and life span (over 20 years);
- high rate of natural predation on eggs and juveniles under the age of two;
- dependence on environmental conditions for the internal development of eggs and external incubation of eggs without parental care.
As a consequence of these life history traits, turtle populations, including Northern Map Turtles, cannot adjust to an increase in adult mortality rates. Long-term studies indicate that high survival rates of adults (particularly adult females) are critical to the maintenance of turtle populations. Even a 2-3% increase in the annual adult mortality rate could result in population declines (Congdon et al. 1993, 1994; Cunnington and Brooks 1996).
The climatic range within which the Northern Map Turtle can survive limits its range in northern areas (Hutchinson et al. 1966; McKenney et al. 1998). Climate plays a vital role in recruitment, as this species relies on the external environment for incubation of eggs. Recruitment can vary from one year to the next depending on weather conditions, particularly during the summer. Sex determination for the Northern Map Turtle is temperature-dependent and occurs during incubation (Ernst and Lovich 2009). Some research indicates that males are produced when incubation temperatures are around 25°C, while females are produced at incubation temperatures of 30°C or greater (Bull and Vogt 1979); therefore, climate change could have an impact on the ratio of males and females recruited into the population.
In Canada, local populations of the Northern Map Turtle are at the northern limit of their range (Seburn and Seburn 2000). Because fewer heat-unitsFootnote18are available farther north, nesting and development periods become limited. This may be a limiting factor for this species (Brooks 2007).
3.5 Species Cultural Significance
Turtles play an important role in Aboriginal spiritual beliefs and ceremonies. To the First Nations peoples, the turtle is a teacher, possessing a great wealth of knowledge. It plays an integral role in the Creation story, by allowing the Earth to be formed on its back. For this reason, most First Nations people traditionally call North America “Turtle Island”. Aboriginal peoples also use the turtle shell to represent a lunar calendar, with the 13 scutesFootnote19 representing the 13 full moons of the year. Turtle rattles, made from turtle shells are used in traditional ceremonies and often represent the turtle in the Creation story. Turtles also appear in other traditional stories including the Anishinaabe story “How the turtle got its shell” and the Haudenosaunee story “Turtle races with beaver” (Bell et al. 2010).
Threats to the Northern Map Turtle may vary locally across its distribution within Canada. However the information presented in Table 1 is an overall assessment of threats to the Northern Map Turtle in Canada. Where information is known on the significance of a given threat at the local scale, additional information is provided in the threat description below Table 1.
4.1. Threat Assessment
The threats presented in Table 1 are in decreasing level of concern within each threat category.
|Category||Threat||Level of ConcernNoteaof Table 1
|SeverityNotebof Table 1
|Causal CertaintyNotec of Table 1
|Habitat Loss, Degradation, or Fragmentation||Shoreline Development||High||Widespread||Historic & Current||Recurrent||High||High|
|Habitat Loss, Degradation, or Fragmentation||Water Control Structures||Medium-High||Localized||Historic & Current||Recurrent||Moderate||Medium|
|Accidental Mortality||Boating Mortality||High||Widespread||Current||Seasonal||High||High|
|Accidental Mortality||Fishing Bycatch||High||Localized||Current||Seasonal||High||High|
|Accidental Mortality||Road Networks||High/ Medium||Widespread/Localized||Historic & Current||Seasonal||Moderate||High/ Medium|
|Biological Resource Use||Illegal collection||Medium||Localized||Current||Recurrent||Moderate||Medium|
|Changes in Ecological Dynamics or Natural Processes||Human-subsidized Predators||Medium||Localized||Current||Seasonal||Moderate||Medium|
|Disturbance or Harm||Disturbance from Human Activities||Medium||Localized||Current||Seasonal||Unknown||Medium|
|Exotic, Invasive, and Introduced Species||Exotic and invasive species||Medium||Localized||Current & Anticipated||Continuous||Moderate||Medium|
|Pollution||Contamination and Nutrient loading||Low||Localized||Historic & Current||Continuous/Seasonal||Unknown||Low|
|Climate and Natural Disasters||Climate Change||Unknown||Widespread||Current &/ Anticipated||Continuous||Unknown||Low|
4.2. Description of Threats
This section highlights major threats outlined in Table 1, emphasizes key points, and provides additional information. Although threats are listed individually, an important concern is the long-term cumulative effect of a variety of threats posed on local Northern Map Turtle populations. It should be noted that some of these threats apply only during the active season because they lead to direct mortality, injury, or collection of individuals. Isolation through habitat loss and fragmentation is of particular concern, as it leads to a breakdown of metapopulation dynamics and limits the possibility of a rescue effect. Threats are listed in overall decreasing order of level of concern.
Habitat Loss and Degradation
Shoreline habitat degradation reduces the availability of suitable nesting and basking sites (Carrière and Blouin-Demers 2010; COSEWIC 2012). Such habitat degradation can also reduce the number of overwintering sites and increase the number of predators (Ernst and Lovich 2009). In many areas, shorelines are reinforced to prevent erosion, often using metal, concrete walls or rip rapFootnote20(Gillingwater 2004). Even development of cottages and shoreline grooming can alter nesting habitat and remove key habitat requirements such as basking logs (McDonnell pers. comm. 2012 in COSEWIC 2012). By altering or eliminating shoreline habitat, Northern Map Turtles are no longer able to carry out critical life functions, such as nesting and basking, which will ultimately lead to a decline in the population. Construction activities associated with this type of development can also lead to direct turtle deaths. Individuals may be extracted from hibernacula by heavy equipment during land clearing/excavation or crushed by heavy equipment during the turtles’ overland movements. This activity may also cause destruction or degradation of the aquatic plant communities which act as shelter and foraging habitat for the turtles.
Some techniques commonly used for the management of streams and riparian zones, such as reduction of snags/log jams, riparian draining, channelization, reduction of sandbars and beaches, and water impoundments may also negatively affect Northern Map Turtles (Bodie 2001). Northern Map Turtles are particularly affected by the removal or alteration of sandbars and beaches, which may reduce the availability of suitable nesting sites.
While in the water, turtles are at risk of being injured or killed by collisions with boats and/or propellers (Burger and Garber 1995; Smith et al.2006; Galois and Ouellet 2007; Bulté et al. 2010). Turtle deaths due to impacts with motorboats, even in water bodies with low to moderate (versus high) boat traffic may lead to a decline in the local freshwater turtle population (Bulté et al.2010). In Canada, deaths and injuries associated with motor boating and other water sports have been observed in Northern Map Turtles (Gillingwater pers. comm. 2005 in Seburn 2007; Carrière 2007; Galois and Ouellet 2007; Bernier and Rouleau 2010; Bulté et al. 2010; Bennett and Litzgus 2014). Although accounts of propeller injuries are relatively common, the severity of the threat has been documented in only a few areas. A study of the impact of recreational motor boating on populations of Northern Map Turtles at two locations in Ontario found that populations were at significant risk as a result of collisions with boats. Overall, 8.3% and 3.8% of individuals at each of the two locations included in the study, respectively, had propeller injuries; if over 10% of these collisions result in turtle death, rapid population extinction is plausible (Bulté et al. 2010). Boating-related injuries have also been reported in this species in Quebec (Bernier and Rouleau 2010). Studies have also found that female Northern Map Turtles were more likely to be found with a boat propeller injury than males which was likely due to the female’s larger size (Bulté et al. 2010; Bennett and Litzgus 2014).
Bycatch in commercial and recreational freshwater fishing is believed to be a real, but underated threat to turtles (Raby et al. 2011). Extensive research has been undertaken in eastern Ontario in recent years on the rates of turtle bycatch in commercial fishery nets; results show that the Northern Map Turtles are one of the most common turtle species caught (Larocque et al. 2012a; Stoot et al.2013; Midwood et al. 2014). Because nets are often not checked for several days, rates of drowning among turtles are high. Mortality rates are sufficient to cause extirpation of local turtle populations (Midwood et al. 2014). Turtles that survive (i.e. do not drown) in nets can show signs of harm that increases their risk of later mortality (Stoot et al. 2013).
Studies conducted in eastern Ontario, and on the Mississippi River (United States) found that passive fishing techniques (e.g., fyke nets) can result in significant bycatch of turtles, in particular Northern Map Turtles (e.g., Barko et al. 2004; Carrière 2007; Laroque et al. 2012a). In 2005, 15 Northern Map Turtles drowned in underwater hoop-nets used for commercial fishing in the area of St. Lawrence Islands National Park (Carrière 2007). Severe mortality (33%) of turtles has also been documented in nets set in Newboro Lake, Ontario (Larocque et al. 2012c). Even when care is taken to ensure that a portion of the trap remains above water, turtles tend to travel to the last compartment, which is sometimes anchored to the bottom and completely submerged (Thompson, pers. comm. 2005 in Seburn 2007).
In addition to the risk of by-catch in commercial fisheries’ nets, turtles also risk injury and mortality from ingestion of recreational anglers’ hooks. As turtles captured on fishing lines are often released by cutting the line, the hook remains in the turtle (Galois and Ouellet 2007; Gillingwater 2008). The hook and nylon line can lead to serious lacerations in the digestive tract, and lead weights can cause poisoning (Borkowski 1997). Examples of Northern Map Turtle by-catch on fishing lines have been reported in Ontario, including in the Toronto area (Johnson pers. comm. 2005 in Seburn 2007).
Death from collisions with road vehicles is noted as a growing concern in turtle studies (e.g. Andrews et al. 2006), especially for roads which run along streams and lakes, and are heavily travelled. Because the Northern Map Turtle species is highly aquatic, road mortality is thought to be of lesser concern for this species than for other freshwater turtles (Oldham pers. comm. 2012 in COSEWIC 2012). However, given their sensitivity to increased adult mortality, even low mortality rates can be detrimental to local populations.
In Ontario, the road network is developing rapidly, especially in the sourthern portion of the province, where the length of major roads has increased of 28,000 km within 60 years (Fenech et al. 2005). Road mortality is of high concern in this province and road sections with high mortality rates of freshwater turtles have been identified in many areas, including national and provincial parks (Ashley and Robinson 1996; Crowley and Brooks 2005; Ontario Road Ecology Group 2010). A survey along the Long Point Causeway reported 25 Northern Map Turtle killed along a 3.6 km road stretch, which could represent an annual loss of up to 2% in this area (Ashley and Robinson 1996). Another study in Ontario suggested that local populations were susceptible to population declines at locations where road density exceed 2 km of roads/km² and where traffic volume exceed 200 vehicles/lane/day, thresholds that are known to be exceeded in some areas (Gibbs and Shriver 2002).
Females tend to be at greater risk of road mortality because they travel overland during the nesting season (Haxton 2000), may use road shoulders to nest (e.g., Aresco 2005) and, as a result, are more frequently encountered on roads than males (Steen et al. 2006). This can lead to a decline in the population as there are fewer breeding/nesting females to help increase or maintain the population. Also, hatchlings emerging from nests located on road shoulders may be killed as they attempt to reach aquatic habitats. Mortality also may increase the likelihood of population decline due to reduced recruitment rates.
Maintenance of roads and trails can also pose a threat to individuals and nests when grading and vegetation removal/control is required throughout the summer autumn and winter. The extent of the impact of road mortality on local populations of Northern Map Turtles requires further investigation.
Habitat Loss and Degradation
Water Control Structures
Water control structures can impede the movement of turtles in aquatic environments, thereby increasing habitat fragmentation (Bennett et al. 2010). This is of particular concern for highly aquatic turtle species, such as the Northern Map Turtle. In certain cases, dam and lock construction can contribute to isolation of Northern Map Turtle local populations (Bennett et al. 2010; COSEWIC 2012; Bouchard et al. 2013). For example, local populations along one major river in Ontario have low genetic diversity compared to other local populations analyzed. This could be the result of restricted movements and low habitat connectivity due to barriers along the river (Bouchard et al. 2013). Loss of genetic variation in small, isolated populations can in turn cause loss of population fitness and adaptability, and increase the risk of extinction in the wake of a catastrophic event or epidemicFootnote21(Frankham 1995; Reed and Frankham 2003). However, some Northern Map Turtle individuals have been found to cross dam and lock structures (Bennett et al. 2010; Bernier and Rouleau 2010; Gillingwater pers. comm. 2012), suggesting that these structures do not always prevent movement from occurring.
Water control structure operation may also impact turtle habitat by altering upstream and downstream water levels, thereby impacting water depth over hibernacula and availability of nesting, basking, and foraging habitats. For example, the use of dams for flood control negatively impacts the species by reducing the amount of shoreline stripping and the amount of exposed soil that is suitable for nesting as a result of natural flooding events (Seburn 2007; COSEWIC 2012). Water control structures can also affect the downstream flow regime that alters sediment transport, thermal properties, water levels, and oxygen concentrations, all of which can affect habitat suitability for turtles, especially during hibernation. Water level control by dams may also result in submerging of nests of the Northern Map Turtle during incubation or overwintering which may drown eggs or kill overwintering hatchlings (Flaherty 1982).
Biological Resource Use
Worldwide, many turtle species are impacted by both individual and large-scale systematic illegal collection of turtles for use as pets, food and traditional remedies (Bodie 2001; Moll and Moll 2004; Daigle et al. 2007). The rate of export of freshwater turtles is high in the U.S. (Mali et al. 2014). For example, between 2003 and 2005, 511,520 map turtles (Graptemys) were legally exported from the United States, of which 10,365 individuals were declared as wild-caught (legally caught from the wild), with 3,672 Northern Map Turtles specifically exported (Senneke 2006 in COSEWIC 2012). The rate of illegal export can be expected to be high in Canada given lucrative trade demand. Reptile species are more likely to be involved in the international pet trade if they are categorized as at risk than if they are not considered at risk (Bush et al. 2014), which is consistent with a general demand for rare wildlife (Courchamp et al. 2006). Northern Map Turtles have similar features to multiple turtle species in the pet and food trade including: False Map Turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica), Mississippi Map Turtles (Graptemys kohnii), painted turtles (Chrysemys spp.), cooters (Pseudemys spp.) and sliders (Trachemys spp.) (Conant and Collins 1991). Resemblance to many of these turtle species increases the risk of individual Northern Map Turtles being poached (COSEWIC 2012). Although it is unclear whether harvesting of turtles for food is a widespread practice in Canada, humans are known to consume a number of turtle species, including Northern Map Turtles (Thorbjarnarson et al.2000; Moll and Moll 2004).
The illegal sale of Northern Map Turtles has been increasing through online websites such as Kijiji (Gillingwater pers. comm. 2011 in COSEWIC 2012). According to tips received by Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, between 2010 and 2012, nine wild-caught Northern Map Turtles were advertised for sale online in Ontario (Gillingwater pers. comm. 2011 in COSEWIC 2012). Two cases of Northern Map Turtle harvesting were documented recently in Ontario (Cebek pers. comm. 2005; deSolla. 2005; de Solla pers. comm. 2005 in Seburn 2007).
Illegal collection of Northern Map Turtle may not directly cause mortality, but removes individuals, from all age classes, from the population which, given the species’ reproductive strategy (extreme longevity, low recruitment rates), may greatly reduce recruitment (COSEWIC 2012). The annual removal of even just a few adults from a local population can have a significant impact (see section 3.4). The extent of illegal organized turtle harvest is poorly documented in Canada for the Northern Map Turtle.
Changes in Ecological Dynamics or Natural Processes
In many areas, the low density or absence of top predators and increased food availability from human sources (e.g., food handouts, garbage, crops) have led to a greater abundance of turtle predators than natural conditions would have historically supported (Mitchell and Klemens 2000). Main predators of Northern Map Turtle include Mink (Neovison vison), Raccoons (Procyon lotor), Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), and Coyote (Canis latrans), while hatchlings are also known to be predated by Green Frogs (Rana clamitans), American Bullfrogs (Lithobates catesbeianus), Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina), large fish, gulls, terns, and herons (Gillingwater pers. comm. 2011 in COSEWIC 2012). Several local populations of Northern Map Turtle experience high rates of nest predation. For example, a two-year study at Rondeau Provincial Park found that 75% of eggs were eaten by mammals (Gillingwater and Brooks 2002). A study conducted by Browne (2003) in Point Pelee National Park found 63-100% of turtle nests were lost to predation, primarily by raccoons, while a second study (Phillips and Murray 2005) determined that the raccoon density in Point Pelee National Park was four times higher than the average for rural Ontario (Phillips 2008). Increased nest mortality in disturbed habitat was due primarily to greater raccoon densities overall rather than foraging efforts targeted toward turtle nests (Phillips 2008). Elevated predation by raccoons has been identified as a likely cause of low recruitment and a shifting size/age structure of turtle populations (Browne and Hecnar 2007). In a study conducted at Lac des Deux-Montagnes in Quebec, Northern Map Turtle nesting sites has higher estimated predation rates (between 55 - 95%) and greater predation rates from raccoons if the nesting sites were near human-modified landscapes (Bernier and Rouleau 2010).
Methods to deal with elevated predation rates have been developed (e.g. predator exclusion cages) and used with varying degrees of success (Seburn 2007; Riley and Litzgus 2013).
Disturbance or Harm
Disturbance from human activities
Human activity can affect Northen Map Turtles in many ways. Because they are so wary, simply approaching basking individuals can cause them to leave their basking sites and return to the water. The resulting heat loss, should the disturbance become repetitive, can delay the development of eggs in females, and affect other life cycle processes in both sexes and in all age classes (e.g., food metabolism, spring emergence) (Bulté and Blouin-Demers 2010b). Moreover, the presence of humans and/or boats can delay or interrupt nesting, and females may abandon their nests, making nests more susceptible to predation (Horne et al. 2003; Moore and Seigel 2006). Repeated disturbance at nesting sites may also force females to use lower quality nesting sites (Moore and Seigel 2006), which in turn can slow incubation and reduce the hatching rate (Horne et al. 2003). Recreational activities on nesting beaches (e.g. use of All-terrain Vehicles (ATVs)) can also lead to trampling of nests or turtles (Bolton and Brooks 2007). Translocation of turtles (e.g. individuals collecting turtles and later returning them to the wild in a location other than where the individuals were originally captured) from one water body to another by humans may lead to increased stress and/or threats (e.g. road networks) when the turtle attempts to return to its area of origin or find habitats to meet its life cycle needs (e.g. for foraging or hibernation) (Gillingwater pers. comm. 2012). Turtle species have also been subject to deliberate harassment and persecution by humans, including throwing rocks, and shooting with firearms (e.g. Horne et al.2003).
A study along one river in Ontario revealed that increased boat activity along with development of a public beach area resulted in a decrease in Northern Map Turtle observations in nearby bays and channels (Tessier and Lapointe 2009). The same study also noted a high level of disturbance to basking Northern Map Turtles by passing boats, indicated by sightings of turtles leaving the nest.
Exotic, and Invasive, and Introduced Species
Exotic and Invasive Species
The introduction of invasive, exotic plants can alter the availability and quality of the Northern Map Turtle habitats. In some areas, particularly around Lake Erie, Lake Huron, and Lake St. Clair, and along some major rivers, the non-native plant, Common Reed (Phragmites australis) has invaded wetlands, lakes and rivers, forming a monocultureFootnote22that has altered conditions and decreased habitat quality (Wilcox et al. 2003; Hudon et al. 2005; Gillingwater pers. comm. 2012). The expansion of road networks also facilitates the spread of invasive plant species, especially in southern Ontario (Gelbard and Belnap 2003).
Turtles nest in open, unshaded areas receiving adequate solar heat. In a study conducted at Long Point, Lake Erie, Ontario, it was found that the non-native plant, Common Reed had reduced the amount of suitable nesting habitat for many turtle species because growth of the plant altered the microenvironment (particularly significant temperature reductions in nests) of turtle nests during the incubation period (Bolton and Brooks 2010). The loss of suitable nesting habitat for turtle species due to invasive plants including non-native Common Reed, Japanese Hops (Humulus japonicas), and Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) have also been observed at many other locations throughout southern Ontario (Gillingwater pers. comm. 2012).
The introduction of non-native animal species can also have a negative effect on turtles. The release of exotic pet turtles (e.g., Red-eared Slider, Trachemys scripta) in natural environments following a period of captivity can result in the transmission of diseases to native populations and can create competition for basking and feeding sites (Cadi and Joly 2003, 2004). These turtles are known to occur in high numbers in some locations of Ontario and even breed (MNRF 2014, unpublished data). The Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio) is also a concern in many areas of southern Ontario, especially due to its abundance, active feeding habits, and strong ability to outcompete native species. When feeding, carp root around in the substrate, damaging or killing plants, and increasing siltation and turbidity in the water (Laird and Page 1996), which in turn, causes a whole range of ecological impacts, including loss of biodiversity (Kloskowski 2011). This affects the quality and quantity of suitable habitat available to Northern Map Turtle.
Contamination and Nutrient Loading
Aquatic habitat of the Northern Map Turtle can be impacted by the degradation of water quality caused by the runoff of contaminated water from agricultural (nutrients and pesticides) and industrial zones (industrial waste), roads (e.g., de-icing salt), and urban areas (e.g., heavy metals) (Mitchell and Klemens 2000; Bishop et al. 2010). Northern Map Turtles could be vulnerable to contaminant accumulation in their body tissues. Individuals absorb contaminants in the environment through various physiological processes (e.g. feeding, breathing, and absorption through tissues or membranes such as eggshells). The Northern Map Turtle is more likely to be affected by contaminants than other turtle species because of its diet (i.e., molluscs, crayfish, and insects) (Lindeman 2006; Bulté and Blouin-Demers 2008) and the location of its habitats (St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes drainage basins) (Bishop and Gendron 1998). The Northern Map Turtle’s ingestion of large numbers of zebra mussels from the Great Lakes basin (Bulté and Blouin-Demers 2008) could constitute a major source of exposure to contaminants (Hogan et al. 2007). Given that Northern Map Turtles prey on molluscs, degradation of water bodies that in turn reduces molluscan prey abundance would also be detrimental to Northern Map Turtle populations (COSEWIC 2012).
Recent studies indicate that there is little effect of reliance on benthic food chain on mercury accumulation in painted and musk turtles (Châteauvert 2013) and that concentration of mercury in blood and scutes does not affect parasitism level in Painted turtles (Slevan-Tremblay 2013). However, mercury exposure could be detrimental to the immune system by reducing the number of lymphocytes. Similar effects might be impacting Northern Map Turtles. Two studies, undertaken in the Great Lakes basin, detected several industrial-based contaminants in Snapping Turtle eggs. It was also noted that abnormal embryo development increased with exposure to polychlorinated aromatic hydrocarbons (Bishop et al. 1998; Van Meter et al. 2006). Although these studies focused on other species, the potential for similar effects on Northern Map Turtle exists as they share similar habitats and behaviours.
Inputs of sediments and organic matter through erosion and runoff can also alter water quality and habitat structure and threaten local populations of Northern Map Turtles. Siltation of deep pools has been linked to the decline of several turtle species (see Bodie 2001), and could degrade Northern Map Turtle overwintering habitat by exposing individuals to freezing. The augmentation of nutrient loads associated with human activity can lead to blue-green algal blooms in waters frequented by turtles (Carpenter et al. 1998), and this can threaten turtles through ingestion of toxins from the algae. In addition, nutrient loading can lead to increased oxygen consumption by bacteria, which, in turn, can result in periods of low dissolved oxygen levels (hypoxia) or even a total absence of oxygen (anoxia) during winter. Northern Map Turtles are known to be intolerant of hypoxia during hibernation (Ultsch 2006); therefore, if they hibernate in areas where oxygen levels are decreased, they could be at risk of dying during hibernation due to hypoxia or anoxia.
Climate and Natural Disasters
Climate is the main limiting factor of the the distribution of turtles in the north. Given the effect of climate on recruitment rates, it seems likely that global climate change will have an impact on turtle populations. An increase in the annual average temperature in Ontario of 2.5 to 3.7ºC by 2050 (compared to 1961-1990) is expected, along with changes in seasonal precipitation patterns (Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation 2009).
The Northern Map Turtle exhibits temperature-dependent sex determination where higher temperatures lead to production of proportionately more females and lower temperatures lead to production of proportionately more males (Ernst and Lovich 2009). It has been hypothesized that climate change and the anticipated increase in average temperatures could have an impact on the sex ratio of turtle populations (through a female bias) (Janzen 1994; COSEWIC 2012) and on the development of embryos and hatchlings (Willette et al. 2005), which could threaten the viability of the species in the future (COSEWIC 2012). A climate modelling study in the Great Lakes regions suggests that 50-75% of known localities where Northern Map Turtle occurs in Canada and the United States are projected to remain climatically suitable for the species. Northern Map Turtle was deemed to be moderately sensitive to climate change compared to other reptile species included in the study (King and Niiro 2013). Although climate change does appear to pose a threat to Northern Map Turtles in Canada, the level of concern remains difficult to project. Additional studies examining the impacts of climate change on Northern Map Turtle and other turtle species at risk would be beneficial.
5. Management Objective
The management objective for the Northern Map Turtle is to:
- Stabilize population levels and thereafter maintain the distribution and abundance of the Canadian population of Northern Map Turtle through threat reduction and mitigation as well as habitat management.
The Canadian distribution and abundance of the Northern Map Turtle is currently not fully known. There is little long term data on population trends for the species, however, COSEWIC (2012) indicated that the overall population is likely in decline due to increased adult mortality related to the numerous threats faced by the species. The goal of this management plan is to halt the population decline and to maintain the overall population of the species in Canada (distribution and abundance) by addressing threats to the species. This long-lived species has specific ecological requirements, complex life cycle needs, and a limited ability to compensate for the loss of individuals through reproduction or through recruitment from adjacent populations. As a result, active approaches and strategies undertaken on several fronts and over large regions will be required to achieve this objective. A special focus is given to conserving local populations and suitable habitat which will allow the species to become self sustaining. It will also be necessary to gather baseline information, through population and habitat monitoring activities, to determine population trends, habitat use and to help inform further management actions. Threat reduction and mitigation strategies are necessary to ensure that the population of Northern Map Turtle in Canada is maintained. Without addressing the threats facing the species, local populations will likely not be able to sustain their current numbers. Communication and outreach activities, as well as research to fill knowledge gaps, are needed in order to prevent further population declines, to help understand the biology and ecology of the species and to better document threats in Canada.
6. Broad Strategies and Conservation Measures
6.1. Actions Already Completed or Currently Underway
At the national scale, the Canadian Herpetology Society (CHS) is the main non-profit organization devoted to the conservation of amphibians and reptiles, including turtles, and conducts the following activities: scientific investigations, public education programs and community projects, compilation and analysis of historical data and the undertaking of projects that support conservation or habitat restoration.
Environment Canada has been funding projects related to Northern Map Turtle conservation throughout Quebec and Ontario through the Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP) and Aboriginal Fund for Species at Risk (AFSAR) since 2001 and the Interdepartmental Recovery Fund (IRF) since 2004. Projects have included activities such as undertaking targeted surveys for the species; identifying important habitat of local populations; studying the severity of and/or mitigating threats such as road mortality; soliciting observations/ encouraging public reporting of sightings; and educating landowners and/or the public on species identification, threats, and stewardship options.
An Ontario Multi-Species Turtles at Risk Recovery Team was established in the early 2000s by a group of people interested in turtle recovery. This group has coordinated and initiated a number of recovery efforts, and was involved in preparing and reviewing an Ontario-based draft multi-turtle recovery strategy, which addressed five species of freshwater turtles, including Northern Map Turtle.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and ForestryFootnote23 (MNRF) has funded numerous turtle conservation and stewardship projects across Ontario through the Ontario Species at Risk Stewardship Fund and other provincial funding programs. In 2010, they released the Forest Management Guide for Conserving Biodiversity at the Stand and Site Scales (OMNR 2010) (The Stand and Site Guide). The Stand and Site Guide is one of a series of forest management guides used by forest managers when planning and implementing forest management operations. The stand and site guide includes standards, guidelines and best management practices for turtle species found in the Area of the Undertaking, including the Northern Map Turtle.
Since 2009, Ontario Nature has been coordinating the development of a new Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas. By soliciting occurrence records from the public, researchers, government and non-government organizations, this project is improving our knowledge of the distribution and status of reptiles and amphibians, including the Northern Map Turtle, in Ontario (Crowley pers. comm. 2012; Ontario Nature 2012). Ontario Nature is working with the Natural Heritage and Information Centre, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and other organizations to promote the new Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas (Ontario Nature website).
There are many organizations and agencies that offer educational programs about turtle species at risk (e.g., Reptiles at Risk on the Road Project, Georgian Bay Reptile Awareness Program, Ontario Nature, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Ontario Parks, Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre, Toronto Zoo, Upper Thames River Conservation Authority). In addition, the National Parks and Historic Canals provide opportunities to their visitors to learn about Northern Map Turtles and other at risk turtles across Ontario. The Toronto Zoo Adopt-A-Pond program (Toronto Zoo Adopt-A-Pond website) is one of several projects that have developed turtle conservation curricula for schools. Turtle SHELL (Safety, Habitat, Education and Long Life), a charitable organization, has prepared booklets and installed turtle crossing signs. The Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre rehabilitates and releases injured turtles. Efforts to secure the nests of turtle species at risk have also been undertaken.
Many projects are being carried out as a requirement under the Ontario Endangered Species Act, 2007 that are directly benefiting Northern Map Turtle local populations. For example, turtle fencing and ecopassages are now incorporated into the design of most new highways whenever they bisect species at risk turtle habitat (Ontario Road Ecology Group 2010; OMNR 2013). Research is actively being conducted for species at risk turtles in Canada, many of which have been referenced throughout this recovery strategy and listed in section 8.
The Quebec Turtles Recovery Team was created in 2005. One of its mandates was to develop and implement a recovery plan for five species of turtles: the Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta), the Northern Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica), the Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii), the Eastern Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) and the Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) (ÉRCETQ 2005). This team merged in 2012 with the Spiny Softshell Recovery Team, thus including a sixth species of turtle. To ensure the implementation of the recovery actions, four Implementation Groups were established, each working on a specific turtle species or groups of species. One of these groups is the Northern Map Turtle Implementation Group, and is made up of partners from many organizations and independent consultants, including (over the years) MFFP, Environment Canada, Éco-Nature, Biodôme de Montréal, Nature Conservancy of Canada, Ville de Montréal, Hydro-Québec, Nature-Action Québec, Zoo Ecomuseum / Société d’Histoire Naturelle de la Vallée du Saint-Laurent (SHNVSL), Université de Montréal, and Université d’Ottawa.
An amphibian and reptile database (Atlas des Amphibiens et des Reptiles du Québec) exists and is managed by the SHNVSL . The Atlas des Amphibiens et des Reptiles du Québec has been a source database of the Centre de données sur le patrimoine naturel du Québec (CDPNQ) until 2014. The CDPNQ is operated by the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP) for data on threatened or vulnerable wildlife species, including the Northern Map Turtle. In 2011, the CDPNQ mapped the element occurrences for Northern Map Turtle in Quebec.
Inventories and research on the ecology, genetics, habitat use, movements, impact of disturbances and road mortality have been conducted across the province by various organizations (e.g. MFFP, SHNVSL, Université de Montréal, Éco-Nature, Ville de Montréal). A protocol on population monitoring has been developed and tested (Bernier and Mazerolle 2009).
A number of education and awareness programs that include Northern Map Turtles have been conducted by zoological institutions (e.g., Biodôme de Montréal, SHNVSL, Zoo de Granby), conservation organizations (e.g., Nature-Action Québec, Nature Conservancy of Canada, Éco-Nature), and parks (e.g., Parc national de Plaisance, Parc national d’Oka, Parc de la Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, and Les Parcs-nature de la Ville de Montréal). Many local conservation organizations and associations contribute to the conservation of the Northern Map Turtle and a Web vignette has been developed (MFFP website and Atlas des Amphibiens et des Reptiles du Québec (AARQ) website)Footnote24. In addition, various educational brochures and posters have been distributed (Nature Conservancy of Canada, Éco-Nature, SHNVSL).
Several multi-partner projects were established to secure nests; to create and improve nesting sites; to install basking sites; to promote installation of road signs and navigation buoys in or adjacent to areas with high turtle densities to mitigate road and boating mortality, respectively; and to increase awareness about native species and how to prevent illegal turtle trade (Tessier et al. 2007, Éco-Nature/Parc de la Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, MFFP, SHNVSL, Ville de Montréal, Hydro-Quebec). There are also acquisition, agreement, and stewardship programs to conserve turtle habitats in various regions of Quebec (e.g., Nature Conservancy of Canada, Nature-Action Québec, Éco-Nature, Canards Illimités, MFFP).
6.2. Broad Strategies
The broad strategies of this management plan are as follows:
- Use legislative and administrative tools to conserve Northern Map Turtle individuals and habitat.
- Reduce individual (adult and hatchling) mortality, injury and illegal collection across the range of the Northern Map Turtle in Canada.
- Conserve, manage and restore habitat across the range of the Northern Map Turtle in Canada.
- Conduct communication and outreach to promote efficient and collaborative management efforts across the range of Northern Map Turtle in Canada.
- Survey and monitor Northern Map Turtle local populations, habitats and threats to provide baseline information and to monitor population trends and habitat use.
- Conduct research on population demographics, habitat characterization and use, and threats/threat mitigation to fill knowledge gaps.
6.3. Conservation Measures
To work towards achieving the management objective, five broad strategies for recovery have been established. Conservation measures are recommended for each (Table 2). Threats/limitations in the third column are numbered as follows for concise presentation:
- Shoreline development;
- Boating mortality;
- Fishing by-catch;
- Road networks;
- Water control structures;
- Illegal collection;
- Human-subsidized predators;
- Disturbance from human activities;
- Exotic and invasive species;
- Contamination and nutrient loading;
- Climate change;
- Lack of baseline information;
- Knowledge gaps.
|Category||Conservation Measure||Priority||Threat or Limitation Addressed||Timeline|
|1. Use legislative and administrative tools to conserve Northern Map Turtle individuals and habitat.||1.1. Continue to promote compliance with existing provincial and federal legislation applicable to Northern Map Turtle individuals and their habitat.||High||1-6, 8-10||Ongoing|
|1. Use legislative and administrative tools to conserve Northern Map Turtle individuals and habitat.||1.2. Promote the integration of approved Best Management Practices into the policies and practices of responsible agencies, jurisdictions, and industry.||Medium||1-10||Ongoing|
|1. Use legislative and administrative tools to conserve Northern Map Turtle individuals and habitat.||1.3 Continue to encourage stewardship activities, including financial support through available funding programs.||Medium||1-11||Ongoing|
|2. Reduce individual mortality, injury and illegal collection across the range of the Northern Map Turtle in Canada.||
2.1. Continue to develop and encourage implemention of mitigation techniques (e.g. Best Management Practices (BMPs) and alternatives to traditional development) to reduce individual mortality, illegal collection, and injury. Examples of priority mitigations measures include:
|2. Reduce individual mortality, injury and illegal collection across the range of the Northern Map Turtle in Canada.||2.2. Promote the implementation of approved BMPs, development alternatives, and mitigation techniques to the general public, landowners, land managers, and industry. This addresses priority threats through stewardship, funding and other techniques.||High||1-10||2015-2025|
|3. Conserve, manage and restore habitat across the range of the Northern Map Turtle in Canada.||3.1. Conserve areas large enough to support habitat needs of local populations and increase connectivity through stewardship, land acquisition, management and other tools.||High||1-10||Ongoing|
|3. Conserve, manage and restore habitat across the range of the Northern Map Turtle in Canada.||3.2 Minimize or prevent habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation (e.g. loss from construction of water control structures and shoreline development) by encouraging stewardship activities and promoting BMPs for habitat conservation, and alternatives to traditional development projects.||High||1,2,4,5||Ongoing|
|3. Conserve, manage and restore habitat across the range of the Northern Map Turtle in Canada.||3.3 Control the spread of exotic and invasive species, and control or eliminate such species where they are detrimental to Northern Map Turtle local populations.||Medium||10||Ongoing|
|3. Conserve, manage and restore habitat across the range of the Northern Map Turtle in Canada.||3.4 Assess habitat restoration needs at locations where habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation are threatening Northern Map Turtle local populations.||Medium||1, 4, 5, 9, 10||2015-2025|
|3. Conserve, manage and restore habitat across the range of the Northern Map Turtle in Canada.||3.5 Develop, implement, and evaluate habitat restoration techniques where deemed necessary to support local populations.||Medium||1, 4, 5, 9, 10||Ongoing|
|3. Conserve, manage and restore habitat across the range of the Northern Map Turtle in Canada.||3.6 Where appropriate, restore or create suitable nesting habitat and monitor use by Northern Map Turtles.||Low||1, 4, 5, 10||Ongoing|
|4 Conduct communication and outreach to favour efficient and collaborative management efforts across the range of Northern Map Turtle in Canada.||4.1 Develop a communication and outreach strategy or continue implementing existing communication and outreach tools to help address threats to the species.||Medium||1-10||Ongoing|
|4 Conduct communication and outreach to favour efficient and collaborative management efforts across the range of Northern Map Turtle in Canada.||4.2 Encourage the transfer and archiving of information and tools, including Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK).||Medium||1-12||Ongoing|
|4 Conduct communication and outreach to favour efficient and collaborative management efforts across the range of Northern Map Turtle in Canada.||4.3 Improve and maintain cooperation between stakeholders (e.g. engage partners and promote collaborative work with multiple jurisdictions).||High||1-12||Ongoing|
|4 Conduct communication and outreach to favour efficient and collaborative management efforts across the range of Northern Map Turtle in Canada.||4.4 Promote and engage partners (e.g. academics, government, non-government organizations) in research initiatives necessary to fill knowledge gaps.||Medium||12||Ongoing|
|5 Survey and monitor Northern Map Turtle local populations, habitat and threats to provide baseline information and trends.||5.1 Opportunistically identify nesting sites and overwintering sites of local populations for which information is not available or incomplete.||Medium||12||Ongoing|
|5 Survey and monitor Northern Map Turtle local populations, habitat and threats to provide baseline information and trends.||5.2 Encourage the submission of records for Northern Map Turtle to provincial herpetological atlases as well as provincial Conservation Data Centres.||Medium||13||Ongoing|
|5 Survey and monitor Northern Map Turtle local populations, habitat and threats to provide baseline information and trends.||5.3 Develop, and promote the appropriate use of standardized protocols for survey, monitoring and data bases (e.g., data collection, handling, marking).||Medium||12||Ongoing|
|5 Survey and monitor Northern Map Turtle local populations, habitat and threats to provide baseline information and trends.||5.4 Monitor local populations, habitat trends and threats to the species.||Medium||12||Ongoing|
|5 Survey and monitor Northern Map Turtle local populations, habitat and threats to provide baseline information and trends.||5.5 Prioritize sites with suitable habitat and historical or potential populations and conduct targeted surveys to document the presence of Northern Map Turtles, habitat use, abundance, and threats to the species.||Medium||12||2020|
|6 Conduct research on population, habitat and threats to fill knowledge gaps.||6.1 Further characterize and define the habitats used by Northern Map Turtles at various life stages (e.g. hibernation, thermoregulation, foraging), particularly by hatchlings and juveniles.||Medium||12||2015-2025|
|6 Conduct research on population, habitat and threats to fill knowledge gaps.||6.2 Refine knowledge on threats to Northern Map Turtle individuals and habitat to understand full range of effects and document severity, frequency, extent and casual certainty of threats.||Medium||12||Ongoing|
|6 Conduct research on population, habitat and threats to fill knowledge gaps.||6.3 Conduct research on threat reduction and mitigation measures to document their efficiency and effects on local populations||Medium||12||Ongoing|
|6 Conduct research on population, habitat and threats to fill knowledge gaps.||6.4 Conduct demographic studies in selected sites across Northern Map Turtle’s range, to expand knowledge on population size, age composition and sex ratios.||Medium||12||2015-2025|
|6 Conduct research on population, habitat and threats to fill knowledge gaps.||6.5 Document recruitment needs at locations where the Northern Map Turtle is declining and identify solutions adapted to causes of decline and site context.||Medium||1, 4, 5, 7-10||2015-2025|
6.4. Narrative to Support Conservation Measures and Implementation Schedule
Considering the Northern Map Turtle’s reproduction strategy (see section 3.3 and 3.4), maintaining the highest possible adult survival rate, especially for females, remains the primary need of the species to achieve recovery. Unfortunately, some biological traits of the species (i.e., aquatic habits, nesting on beaches) make it particularly sensitive to many human activities (e.g., recreational boating, water sports, and recreational activities on beaches); therefore, a proactive integrated approach with landowners and land users to limit threats to adult Northern Map Turtles is required and deemed a high priority.
Such approaches should focus primarily on where and when most of the adult mortality occurs. Habitat conservation, as well as threat reduction and mitigation, are important in the management of local Northern Map Turtle populations because these measures will reduce adult mortality and provide suitable habitat for local populations to become self-sustaining. Population surveys and monitoring are also necessary to help gather information on the species in order to help inform further conservation efforts. These approaches must be implemented via an integrated approach engaging various parties (e.g., land owners, land users, land planners, non-government organizations, Aboriginal communities, and governments). In order to inform these parties, as well as begin to mitigate specific threats (e.g. boating mortality, and fishing by-catch), specific communication and outreach approaches need to be undertaken. It is also necessary to fill the knowledge gaps to help meet the management objective.
7. Measuring Progress
The performance indicators presented below provide a way to define and measure progress toward achieving the management objective. Every five years, success of management plan implementation will be measured against these performance indicators:
- The overall Canadian distribution and abundance of Northern Map Turtle has been maintained;
- Threats that may be causing population decline or reducing available suitable habitat have been reduced or mitigated throughout the Canadian range.
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Appendix A: Subnational Conservation Ranks of the Northern Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica) in Canada and the United States
|Global (G) Rank||National (N) Rank
|Sub-national (S) Rank
|National (N) Rank
|Sub-national (S) Rank
|G5||N3||Quebec (S2), Ontario (S3)||N5||Alabama (S3), Arkansas (S4), Georgia (S1), Illinios (S4), Indiana (S4), Iowa (S4), Kansas (S2), Maryland (S1), Michigan (S5), Minnesota (S5), Mississippi (SNR), Missouri (S5), New Jersey (SNA), New York (S3), North Carolina (S1), Ohio (SNR), Oklahoma (S1), Pennsylvania (S4), Tennessee (S5), Vermont (S3), Virginia (S3), West Virginia (S2), Wisconsin (S4S5),|
Rank Definitions (NatureServe 2013)
- G5: Secure:
- At very low risk of extinction or elimination due to a very extensive range, abundant populations or occurrences, and little to no concern from declines or threats
- S1: Critically Imperilled:
- At very high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to very restricted range, very few populations or occurrences, very steep declines, severe threats, or other factors.
- S2: Imperilled:
- At high risk of extirpation in the jursidction due to restricted range, few populations or occurrences, steep declines, severe threats, or other factors.
- S2S3: Vulnerable/Imperilled:
- The risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction ranges from moderate to high due to a fairly restricted to restricted range, relatively few to few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread to steep declines, moderate to severe threats, or other factors.
- N3/S3: Vulnerable:
- At moderate risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to a fairly restricted range, relatively few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread declines, threats, or other factors.
- S4: Apparently Secure:
- At a fairly low risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to an extensive range and/or many populations or occurrences, but with possible cause for some concern as a result of local recent declines, threats, or other factors.
- S4S5: Secure/Apparently Secure:
- At no risk to fairly low risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to an extensive to very extensive range, abundant populations or occurrences, with little to some concern as a result of local recent declines, threats or other factors.
- N5/S5: Secure:
- At very low risk of extinction or elimination due to a very extensive range, abundant populations or occurrences, and little to no concern from declines or threats).
- SNA: Not applicable:
- A conservation status rank is not applicable because the species or ecosystem is not a suitable target for conservation activities.
- SNR: Unranked:
- Subnational conservation status not yet assessed.
Appendix B: Effects on the Environment and Other Species
A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is conducted on all SARA recovery planning documents, in accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally sound decision-making and to evaluate whether the outcomes of a recovery planning document would affect any component of the environment or any of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy’sFootnote25 goals and targets.
Management planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that management plans may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts upon non-target species or habitats. The results of the SEA are incorporated directly into the management plan itself, but are also summarized below in this statement.
Most activities undertaken to conserve the Northern Map Turtle individuals and their habitat will also be beneficial to other species that use similar habitat. The conservation of lakes and rivers as well as the adjacent riparian habitats will contribute to maintain the rich biodiversity supported by those habitats. Morever, threat reduction and mitigation measures targeting the Northern Map Turtle can contribute to reduce mortality in other animal species (e.g., use of ecopassages to reduce road mortality, improvement of fishing techniques to reduce by-catch, efforts to eliminate pollution from aquatic environments). Some of these measures are likely to be found in other recovery documents, particularly those that deal with aquatic and riparian species. Table B-1 presents some examples of species that may benefit from management of the Northern Map Turtle population in Canada; other species not listed may also benefit from Northern Map Turtle management.
|Common Name||Scientific Name||SARA Status|
|Eastern Foxsnake||Pantherophis gloydi||Endangered|
|Fowler’s Toad||Anaxyrus fowleri||Endangered|
|King Rail||Rallus elegans||Endangered|
|Lake Erie Watersnake||Nerodia sipedon insularum||Endangered|
|Least Bittern||Ixobrychus exilis||Threatened|
|Pugnose Shiner||Notropis anogenus||Threatened|
|Spiny Softshell||Apalone spinifera||Threatened|
|Eastern Musk Turtle||Sternotherus odoratus||Threatened|
|Eastern Sand Darter||Ammocrypta pellucida||Threatened|
|American Eel||Anguilla rostrata||Threatened|
|Snapping Turtle||Chelydra serpentina||Special Concern|
|Bridle Shiner||Notropis bifrenatus||Special Concern|
|Grass Pickerel||Esox americanus vermiculatus||Special Concern|
Given that individual species have different life cycles and habitat requirements, along with other specific needs, management actions should recognize the potential for synergistic recovery actions. Wherever possible, natural ecosystem processes should be maintained and allowed to evolve without human interference, because these are the processes to which species are adapted.
The possibility that the present management plan inadvertently generates negative effects on the environment and on other species was considered. The majority of recommended actions are non-intrusive in nature, including surveys and outreach. The present management plan is unlikely to produce significant negative effects.
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