Conservation implications of turtle declines in Australia's Murray River system

J. U. Van Dyke, R. -J. Spencer, M. B. Thompson, B. Chessman, K. Howard, A. Georges

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33 Citations (Scopus)
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Conservation requires rapid action to be effective, which is often difficult because of funding limitations, political constraints, and limited data. Turtles are among the world’s most endangered vertebrate taxa, with almost half of 356 species threatened with extinction. In Australia’s Murray River, nest predation by invasive foxes (Vulpes vulpes) was predicted to drive turtle declines in the 1980s. We assessed populations of the broad-shelled turtle (Chelodina expansa), eastern long-necked turtle (C. longicollis), and Murray River turtle (Emydura macquarii) in the Murray River and some of its associated waterways. Our results suggest that the predicted decline is occurring. All three species are rare in the lower Murray River region, and were undetected in many locations in South Australia. Moreover, E. macquarii had considerable population aging almost everywhere, possibly due to comprehensive nest destruction by foxes. Chelodina longicollis also had population aging at some sites. Sustained low recruitment has potential to lead to collapses as turtles age, which is particularly worrying because it was predicted over 30 years ago and may have already occurred in South Australia. Our results show that turtle declines were not mitigated since that prediction. If the crash continues, a vertebrate guild responsible for considerable nutrient cycling in the aquatic ecosystem will disappear. Our results highlight a worst-case outcome when species declines are predicted, but insufficiently mitigated.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1998
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


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