MAINTENANCE OF VARIABLE RESPONSES FOR COPING WITH WETLAND DRYING IN FRESHWATER TURTLES

Authors


  • Corresponding Editor: M. D. Dearing.

Abstract

Aquatic animals inhabiting temporary wetlands must respond to habitat drying either by estivating or moving to other wetlands. Using radiotelemetry and capture–mark–recapture, we examined factors influencing the decisions made by individuals in a population of freshwater turtles (Chelodina longicollis) in response to wetland drying in southeastern Australia. Turtles exhibited both behaviors, either remaining quiescent in terrestrial habitats for variable lengths of time (terrestrial estivation) or moving to other wetlands. Both the proportion of individuals that estivated terrestrially and the time individuals spent in terrestrial habitats increased with decreasing wetland hydroperiod and increasing distance to the nearest permanent wetland, suggesting behavioral decisions are conditional or state dependent (i.e., plastic) and influenced by local and landscape factors. Variation in the strategy or tactic chosen also increased with increasing isolation from other wetlands, suggesting that individuals differentially weigh the costs and benefits of residing terrestrially vs. those of long-distance movement; movement to other wetlands was the near universal strategy chosen when only a short distance must be traveled to permanent wetlands. The quality of temporary wetlands relative to permanent wetlands at our study site varies considerably and unpredictably with annual rainfall and with it the cost–benefit ratio of each strategy or tactic. Residency in or near temporary wetlands is more successful during wet periods due to production benefits, but movement to permanent wetlands is more successful, or least costly, during dry periods due to survival and body condition benefits. This shifting balance may maintain diversity in response of turtles to the spatial and temporal pattern in wetland quality if their response is in part genetically determined.

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