Responses of an Australian freshwater turtle to drought-flood cycles along a natural to urban gradient

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    Abstract

    Urban areas provide habitat for numerous native species, but life in towns and cities presents many challenges. The effect of climate on the ecology and the behaviour of non-volant vertebrates inhabiting urban habitats have received little attention. In this study, we investigated demography, growth rates, movements and reproduction of a semi-aquatic freshwater turtle, Chelodina longicollis, along a natural to urban gradient during a period of relatively high rainfall (2011–2014) and compared this to a previous study in the same system during drought (2006–2007). In addition to changes in rainfall, urbanization increased considerably over the same time period and a pest-exclusion fence was constructed to mitigate against urban hazards encroaching on the adjacent reserve. Turtles grew at similar rates, had similar abundances and sex ratios and had similar reproductive output across the gradient from urban to non-urban sites during the wet period. Despite increasing urbanization, recruitment occurred at all sites and survivorship estimates were similar among sites. Turtles moved among wetlands at high rates and over long distances (6 km), underscoring the importance of movements in urban landscapes. Our results contrast with those for the same system during drought, when turtles were less abundant and grew slower in the nature reserve compared with the urban environment. Our results underscore the strong influence climate can have on population dynamics and resilience of species to changes brought about by urbanization. Further monitoring is required to understand the long-term population responses of long-lived species to drought cycles.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)442-455
    Number of pages14
    JournalAustral Ecology
    Volume42
    Issue number4
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017

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