Captive-rearing duration may be more important than environmental enrichment for enhancing turtle head-starting success

Global Ecology and Conservation
By: , and 



Raising captive animals past critical mortality stages for eventual release (head-starting) is a common conservation tactic. Counterintuitively, post-release survival can be low. Post-release behavior affecting survival could be influenced by captive-rearing duration and housing conditions. Practitioners have adopted environmental enrichment to promote natural behaviors during head-starting such as raising animals in naturalistic enclosures. Enrichment might be especially beneficial for animals held in captivity long-term to prevent degradation of adaptive behaviors. Using 32 captive-born turtles (Terrapene carolina), half of which were raised in enriched enclosures, we employed a factorial design to explore how enrichment and rearing duration affected post-release growth, behavior, and survival. Six turtles in each treatment (enriched or unenriched) were head-started for nine months (cohort one). Ten turtles in each treatment were head-started for 21 months (cohort two). At the conclusion of captive-rearing, turtles in cohort two were overall larger than cohort one, but unenriched turtles were generally larger than enriched turtles within each cohort. Once released, enriched turtles grew faster than unenriched turtles in cohort two, but we otherwise found minimal evidence suggesting enrichment affected post-release survival or behavior. Cohort two dispersed farther and had generally higher active season survival than cohort one (0.50 vs. 0.33). Body mass was positively associated with daily survival probability. Our findings suggest attaining larger body sizes from longer captive-rearing periods to enable greater movement and alleviate susceptibility to predation (the primary cause of death) could be more effective than environmental enrichment alone in chelonian head-starting programs where substantial predation could hinder success.

    Publication type Article
    Publication Subtype Journal Article
    Title Captive-rearing duration may be more important than environmental enrichment for enhancing turtle head-starting success
    Series title Global Ecology and Conservation
    DOI 10.1016/j.gecco.2019.e00797
    Volume 20
    Year Published 2019
    Language English
    Publisher Elsevier
    Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Atlanta
    Description e00797, 11 p.
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