The influence of disturbance events on survival and dispersal rates of Florida box turtles

Ecological Applications
By: , and 



Disturbances have the potential to cause long-term effects to ecosystem structure and function, and they may affect individual species in different ways. Long-lived vertebrates such as turtles may be at risk from such events, inasmuch as their life histories preclude rapid recovery should extensive mortality occur. We applied capture–mark–recapture models to assess disturbance effects on a population of Florida box turtles (Terrapene carolina bauri) on Egmont Key, Florida, USA. Near the midpoint of the study, a series of physical disturbances affected the island, from salt water overwash associated with several tropical storms to extensive removal of nonindigenous vegetation. These disturbances allowed us to examine demographic responses of the turtle population and to determine if they affected dispersal throughout the island. Adult survival rates did not vary significantly either between sexes or among years of the study. Survival rates did not vary significantly between juvenile and adult turtles, or among years of the study. Furthermore, neither adult nor juvenile survival rates differed significantly between pre- and post-disturbance. However, dispersal rates varied significantly among the four major study sites, and dispersal rates were higher during the pre-disturbance sampling periods compared to post-disturbance. Our results suggest few long-term effects on the demography of the turtle population. Florida box turtles responded to tropical storms and vegetation control by moving to favorable habitats minimally affected by the disturbances and remaining there. As long as turtles and perhaps other long-lived vertebrates can disperse to non-disturbed habitat, and high levels of mortality do not occur in a population, a long life span may allow them to wait out the impact of disturbance with potentially little effect on long-term population processes.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The influence of disturbance events on survival and dispersal rates of Florida box turtles
Series title Ecological Applications
DOI 10.1890/1051-0761(2006)016[1936:TIODEO]2.0.CO;2
Volume 16
Issue 5
Year Published 2006
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Description 9 p.
First page 1936
Last page 1944
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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