The National Park Service (NPS) estimates that 234 national parks contain nonnative, invasive animal species that are of management concern (National Park Service, 2004). Understanding and controlling invasive species is thus an important priority within the NPS (National Park Service, 1996). The slider turtle (Trachemys scripta) is one such invasive species. Native to the Southeastern United States (Ernst and Lovich, 2009), as well as Mexico, Central America, and portions of South America (Ernst and Barbour, 1989), the slider turtle has become established throughout the continental United States and in other locations around the world (Burke and others, 2000). Slider turtle introductions have been suspected to be a threat to native turtles (Holland 1994; da Silva and Blasco, 1995), however, there has not been serious study of their effects until recently. Cadi and Joly (2003) found that slider turtles outcompeted European pond turtles (Emys orbicularis) for preferred basking sites under controlled experimental conditions, demonstrating for the first time direct competition for resources between a native and an exotic turtle species. Similarly, Spinks and others (2003) suggested that competition for basking sites between slider turtles and Pacific pond turtles (Actinemys marmorata) was partly responsible for the decline of Pacific pond turtles observed at their study site in California. They concluded that the impact of introduced slider turtles was 'almost certainly negative' for the western pond turtle. In the most recent critical study to assess the effects of introduced slider turtles on native turtles, Cadi and Joly (2004) demonstrated that European pond turtles that were kept under experimentally controlled conditions with slider turtles lost body weight and exhibited higher rates of mortality than in control groups of turtles comprised of the same species, demonstrating potential population-level effects on native species. Slider turtles are not native to Arizona but have been introduced in several areas in the southern and central part of the State, including Montezuma Well (the Well). The only native turtle at the Well is the Sonora mud turtle (Kinosternon sonoriense). Interactions between sliders and mud turtles have not been investigated at the Well or elsewhere. However, basking sites preferred by aquatic turtles are rare at the Well, suggesting one potential avenue for resource competition between sliders and Sonora mud turtles. In this study, we collected data on both species to evaluate the possible effects of slider turtles on Sonora mud turtles at Montezuma Well. During live trapping in the spring, summer, and early fall of 2007 and 2008, we removed slider turtles that we captured in the Well. We also collected ecological data on the mud turtles captured in the trapping effort. Separate behavioral observations of the turtles in the Well provided additional information on the ecology of the two species in the unusual environment of the Well, and also of interactions between the sliders and mud turtles. In this report, we describe the results of 2 yr of study of the turtles of Montezuma Well. We incorporate older data on the mud turtles in the Well to assess long-term population trends and potential response to the introduced slider turtles. We also report on aspects of basic ecology for the poorly understood Sonora mud turtle. The National Park Service requested that we incorporate public outreach as part of this research effort, so we also describe the outreach efforts associated with the turtle study.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Removal of nonnative slider turtles (Trachemys scripta) and effects on native Sonora mud turtles (Kinosternon sonoriense) at Montezuma Well, Yavapai County, Arizona