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Survey for Macrochelys temminckii in southern Illinois: implications for recovery actions.

INTRODUCTION

Alligator snapping turtles (Macrochelys temminckii) occur in river systems that drain into the Gulf of Mexico (Ernst et al. 1994). They are distributed widely and locally abundant at the core of their range in Louisiana (Boundy 2003, Boundy and Kennedy 2006), Arkansas (Wagner et al. 1996), Mississippi, southern Alabama (Mount 1975), southwestern Georgia (Jensen and Birkhead 2003) and northwestern Florida (Pritchard 1992). Surveys in Oklahoma (Riedle et al. 2005), Kansas (Shipman et al. 1995) and Missouri (Shipman and Riedle 2008) suggest a reduction of the species' historical range at its northern limits, where alligator snapping turtles are considered absent or limited to remnant populations.

Garman (1892), Cahn (1937), Parmalee (1955) and Smith (1961) noted the species' rarity in Illinois, but considered it endemic to the southern part of the state. Records of its occurrence in Illinois are sparse, with the most recent from 1959, 1960 (Galbreath 1961) and 1984 (Morris and Sweet 1985). Moll's (1988) attempts to determine the species' status by interviewing commercial fishermen along the Wabash, Ohio and Mississippi rivers produced no new records, although 11 of the interviewees recalled seeing specimens in their lifetimes.

Moll (1988) considered his findings inconclusive. Therefore, he recommended that no management actions should take place until surveys occurred in locations most likely to harbor viable populations. We completed this task prior to implementation of Kath's (2005) recovery plan for the species.

METHODS

Selection of Sites

Moll (1988) identified Mississippi River drainages from Cairo to Grand Tower as the best locations for surveys. Dreslik et al. (1998) believed viable populations might exist in Mississippi River drainages between the Big Muddy and Ohio rivers. Recent (post-1990) records from Indiana (Lodato et al. 1992) and northern Kentucky (Kentucky Natural Heritage Program, Element Occurrence Records, accessed 15 July 2010) add drainages of the Ohio and lower Wabash rivers as possibilities. Targeted surveys failed to detect the species in Indiana (S. Klueh, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, personal communication), so we confined our efforts to drainages of the Mississippi River from Grand Tower, Illinois to the confluence of the Ohio River and drainages of the Ohio River from its confluence with the Mississippi River to Rosiclare, Illinois. Within this area, we chose sites with past records of occurrence and those with suitable habitat based on Kath's (2005) recovery plan or recommendations of biologists familiar with the region (Fig. 1).

Capture Methods

We trapped from April through September, 2005 through 2010, using commercial hoop nets (Memphis Net and Twine Company, Inc., Memphis, Tennessee, USA). Each had a single throat, 3 hoops and 3.81-cm mesh. We baited nets daily with 0.5-1.0 kg of fresh frozen fish. Locations of sets were determined with a hand-held global positioning system (eTrex, Garmin International, Inc., Olathe, KS, USA).

We trapped diverse habitats including streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, swamps and wetlands. Faced with varying depths of water, we chose net sizes best suited to individual conditions so that throats were submerged yet turtles could breathe when captured. Most sets (72%) were made with nets 0.9144-m in diameter, while some employed nets 0.6096-m (18%) or 1.2192-m (10%) in diameter. We checked nets daily and recorded numbers of each species captured. We did not mark individual turtles because our typical protocol of trapping a site for 2-3 nights precluded use of marks to derive robust estimates of abundance. Three authors (RDB, DAW, JAK) captured alligator snapping turtles successfully in Louisiana using methods employed in Illinois, and the fourth was trained by Dr. Paul Shipman, who had conducted surveys in other states.

Observations from Sportsmen

We solicited observations of alligator snapping turtles in two of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources' most widely disseminated publications. Requests occurred in the Digest of Fishing Regulations from 2007 through 2010, and the Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations for 2006-07 through 2010-11. Combined annual publication was 775,000-800,000 copies, with online availability at the Department's website.

RESULTS

We expended 377 net nights of effort at 18 sites (Table 1) and recorded 2,671 captures of nine species of turtles (Table 2). No alligator snapping turtles were encountered. We received dozens of reports of alligator snapping turtles from sportsmen and the general public. All except two were discounted as false identifications after further investigation. One report, accompanied by a photograph, was from the Milan Bottoms in Rock Island County. Another, also accompanied by a photograph, originated from Gallatin County.

DISCUSSION

Two observations submitted by the public were the only evidence of M. temminckii's current existence in Illinois. We discounted the specimen reported from Rock Island County because experts (Moll 1988, Dreslik et al. 1998) consider all records originating north of St. Louis, MO as suspect and possibly resulting from releases. We made several attempts to obtain more information about the report from Gallatin County, but the individual who submitted it electronically did not respond to our queries. We do not consider the report from Gallatin County indicative of a viable population because it was isolated and unconfirmed. Alligator snapping turtles are vulnerable to recreational fishing gear (Shipman 1993) allowed in Illinois (i.e., trotlines), so incidental captures are likely sources of observations of this otherwise cryptic species. As Cahn (1937:38) stated, "... such a large animal is more than likely to attract attention if present in any numbers."

Alligator snapping turtles are not difficult to detect where viable populations occur. Surveys using methods similar to ours at similar geographic scales in Oklahoma (Riedle et al. 2005), Missouri (Shipman and Riedle 2008), Louisiana (Boundy and Kennedy 2006), Georgia (Jensen and Birkhead 2003) and Arkansas (Wagner et al. 1996) yielded capture rates of 5.7-23.3 alligator snapping turtles per 100 net nights. Studies of local populations have yielded capture rates as great as 34.9 per 100 net nights (Riedle et al. 2008a). Riedle et al. (2005) considered capture rates of [greater than or equal to]12 alligator snapping turtles per 100 net nights as indicative of viable populations at sites sampled in Oklahoma.

Our findings are supported by other studies in or near Illinois. Scott Ballard of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources sampled for M. temminckii in the Mississippi River (Union and Alexander counties), Clear Creek (Alexander County), Heron Pond-Little Black Slough (Johnson County), Loon Lake (Massac County) and Brushy Lake (Massac County); he captured no alligator snapping turtles in 176 net nights of effort (S. Ballard, personal communication). Barko et al. (2004) sampled the Mississippi River from the confluence of the Missouri River (near St. Louis, MO) to the confluence of the Ohio River (near Cairo, IL) to assess commercial fishing gear as a cause of mortality of turtles; they captured no M. temminckii in 2,704 net nights of effort. Other relevant studies from Illinois include Readel and Phillips (2008), Palis (2007), Dreslik et al. (2005), Burbrink et al. (1998), Pierce (1992), Klimstra and Hutchison (1965), Minton and Minton (1948) and Cagle (1942); none encountered M. temminckii.

The alligator snapping turtle was listed as a state endangered species in Illinois during 1994. Given that recovery is the ultimate goal of listing (520 Illinois Compiled Statutes 10/11), the most salient question is not whether M. temminckii exists in Illinois, but whether it exists in sufficient numbers to fuel a natural recovery. Our findings answer the latter question, especially when considered in the context of other studies. The nearest known viable populations occur in extreme southeastern Missouri (Shipman and Riedle 2008). Therefore, recovery is unlikely in Illinois without supplementing populations as proposed by Kath (2005). Similar programs have been implemented by state agencies in Tennessee (Alan Peterson, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, personal communication) and Oklahoma (Riedle et al. 2008b).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

We thank A. Hulin for preparing Fig. 1; S. Ballard, M. Guetersloh, R. Lindsay, M. Murphy, S. Hirst, J. Hirst, P. Shelton, B. Steffen, R. Tuthill, E. Palmer and M. Alessi assisted with field work. Partial funding provided by State Wildlife Grant T-10-P, Illinois Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service cooperating.

received 11/27/10

accepted 6/4/11

LITERATURE CITED

Barko, V.A., J.T. Briggler and D.E. Ostendorf. 2004. Passive fishing techniques: a cause of turtle mortality in the Mississippi River. Journal of Wildlife Management 68:1145-1150.

Boundy, J. 2003. Alligator snapping turtle (Macroclemys temminckii) surveys in Louisiana 19962001. Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA.

Boundy, J., and C. Kennedy. 2006. Trapping survey results for the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) in southeastern Louisiana, with comments on exploitation. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 5:3-9.

Burbrink, F.T., C.A. Phillips and E.J. Heske. 1998. A riparian zone in southern Illinois as a potential dispersal corridor for reptiles and amphibians. Biological Conservation 86:107-115.

Cagle, F.R. 1942. Herpetological fauna of Jackson and Union counties, Illinois. American Midland Naturalist 28:164-200.

Cahn, A.R. 1937. The turtles of Illinois. Illinois Biological Monographs. Volume XVI, Nos. 1-2. University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois, USA.

Dreslik, M.J., A.R. Kuhns and C.A. Phillips. 2005. Structure and composition of a southern Illinois freshwater turtle assemblage. Northeastern Naturalist 12:173-186.

Dreslik, M.J., E.O. Moll, C.A. Phillips and T.P. Wilson. 1998. The endangered and threatened turtles of Illinois. Illinois Audubon. Spring 1998:10-15.

Ernst, C.H., J.E. Lovich and R.W. Barbour. 1994. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., USA.

Galbreath, E.C. 1961. Two alligator snappers, Macroclemys temmincki, from southern Illinois. Transactions of the Illinois State Academy of Science 54:134-135.

Garman, H. 1892. A synopsis of the reptiles and amphibians of Illinois. Bulletin of the Illinois State Laboratory of Natural History, Volume III. J.W. Frank & Sons, Peoria, Illinois, USA.

Jensen, J.B., and W.S Birkhead. 2003. Distribution and status of the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) in Georgia. Southeastern Naturalist 2:25-34.

Kath, J.A. 2005. Alligator snapping turtle recovery plan (Macrochelys temminckii). Final Report. Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Springfield, Illinois, USA.

Klimstra, W.D. and M. Hutchison. 1965. A collection of amphibians and reptiles in southern Illinois. Transactions of the Illinois State Academy of Science 58:151-156.

Lodato, M.J., L.T. Grannan, Jr. and R. Anderson. 1992. Geographic distribution: Macroclemys temminckii. Herpetological Review 23:88.

Minton, S.A. and J.E. Minton. 1948. Notes on a herpetological collection from the Middle Mississippi Valley. American Midland Naturalist 40:378-390.

Moll, E.O. 1988. Status survey of three rare and endangered turtles in Illinois. Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board, Springfield, Illinois, USA.

Morris, M.A., and M.J. Sweet. 1985. Size, age, and growth of an alligator snapping turtle, Macroclemys temmincki, from Illinois. Transactions of the Illinois State Academy of Science 78:241245.

Mount, R.H. 1975. The reptiles and amphibians of Alabama. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA.

Palis, J.G. 2007. If you build it they will come: herpetofaunal colonization of constructed wetlands and adjacent terrestrial habitat in the Cache River drainage of southern Illinois. Transactions of the Illinois State Academy of Science 100:177-189.

Parmalee, P.W. 1955. Reptiles of Illinois. Popular Science Series, Volume V. State of Illinois, Springfield, Illinois, USA.

Pierce, L. 1992. Diet content and overlap of six species of turtle among the Wabash River. Thesis, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois, USA.

Pritchard, P.C.H. 1992. Alligator snapping turtle, Macroclemys temminckii (Harlan). Pages 171177 in P.E. Moler (editor). Rare and Endangered Biota of Florida. Volume III. Amphibians and Reptiles. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA.

Readel, A.M. and C.A. Phillips. 2008. Survey of the river cooter (Pseudemys concinna) in southern Illinois. INHS Technical Report 2008(45). Illinois Natural History Survey, Champaign, Illinois, USA.

Riedle, J.D., P.A. Shipman, S.F. Fox, J.C. Hackler and D.M. Leslie, Jr. 2008a. Population structure of the alligator snapping turtle, Macrochelys temminckii, on the western edge of its distribution. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 7:100-104.

Riedle, J.D., D.B. Ligon and K. Graves. 2008b. Distribution and management of alligator snapping turtles, Macrochelys temminckii, in Kansas and Oklahoma. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 111:21-28.

Riedle, J.D., P.A. Shipman, S.F. Fox and D.M. Leslie, Jr. 2005. Status and distribution of the alligator snapping turtle, Macrochelys temminckii, in Oklahoma. The Southwestern Naturalist 50:79-84.

Shipman, P.A., and J.D. Riedle. 2008. Status and distribution of the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) in southeastern Missouri. Southeastern Naturalist 7:331-338.

Shipman, P.A., D.R. Edds and L.E. Shipman. 1995. Distribution of the alligator snapping turtle (Macroclemys temminckii) in Kansas. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 98:83-91.

Shipman, P.A. 1993. Alligator snapping turtle: habitat selection, movements, and natural history in southeast Kansas. Thesis, Emporia State University, Emporia, Kansas, USA.

Smith, P.W. 1961. The amphibians and reptiles of Illinois. Illinois Natural History Survey Bulletin 28:1-298.

Wagner, B.K., D. Urbston and D. Leek. 1996. Status and distribution of alligator snapping turtles in Arkansas. Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. 50:264-270.

Robert D. Bluett (1), Daniel A. Woolard (2), John G. Palis (3), and Joseph A. Kath (1)

(1) Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Springfield, IL 62702

(2) Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Makanda, IL 62958

(3) Palis Environmental Consulting, P.O. Box 387, Jonesboro, IL 62952
Table 1. Locations sampled for the presence of Macrochelys temminckii
in southern Illinois, 2005-2010.

Site                        County               Effort (net nights)

Cypress Creek National      Alexander/Pulaski            17
Wildlife Refuge (Old
Channel Unit)

Horseshoe Lake State Fish   Alexander                    45
& Wildlife Area
Mill Creek                  Alexander/Pulaski             6
Mississippi River           Alexander                    26
Big Creek                   Hardin                        5
Mud Creek                   Hardin                        4
Big Muddy River             Jackson/Union                34
Tower Island Chute          Jackson/Perry (MO)           21
Mermet Lake State Fish &    Massac                       24
Wildlife Area
Bay Creek                   Pope                         18
Big Grand Pierre Creek      Pope                         18
Lusk Creek                  Pope                         37
Sugar Creek                 Pope                         12
Cache River State Natural   Pulaski/Johnson              24
Area
Dutch Creek                 Union                        24
LaRue Swamp                 Union                        18
Clear Creek                 Union                        15
Union County State Fish &   Union                         9
Wildlife Area
Total effort                                            377

Table 2. Captures of freshwater turtles during a survey for Macrochelys
temminckii in southern Illinois, 2005-2010.

                                 No. captures by species

                          Chelydra    Sternotherus    Chrysemys
Site                     serpentina     odoratus      picta

Cypress Creek NWR            15             3             2
Horseshoe Lake SFWA          39             1             4
Mill Creek                    2             0             0
Mississippi River            25             0             0
Big Creek                     4             0             0

Mud Creek                     3             2             0
Big Muddy River              23             0             0
Tower Island Chute            0             1             0
Mermet Lake SFWA             36             0             9
Bay Creek                    15             0             1
Big Grand Pierre Creek        5             0             0
Lusk Creek                   19             4             0
Sugar Creek                   3             2             0
Cache River SNA              14             0             2
Dutch Creek                  10             0             0
LaRue Swamp                   5             6             0
Clear Creek                   4             0             0
Union County SFWA            21             2             0
Total                       243            21            18

                            No. captures by species

                         Trachemys       Graptemys
Site                      scripta    pseudogeographica

Cypress Creek NWR           150               0
Horseshoe Lake SFWA         245               0
Mill Creek                   37               0
Mississippi River           357             226
Big Creek                    11               0
Mud Creek                     9               0
Big Muddy River             519              13
Tower Island Chute          164              11
Mermet Lake SFWA            137               0
Bay Creek                   113               0
Big Grand Pierre Creek        6               0
Lusk Creek                    9               0
Sugar Creek                  23               0
Cache River SNA              46               0
Dutch Creek                  15               0
LaRue Swamp                  14               0
Clear Creek                  62               1
Union County SFWA           129               0
Total                      2046             251

                                 No. captures by species

                           Graptemys     Graptemys    Apalone
Site                     ouachitensis   geographica   mutica

Cypress Creek NWR              0              0           0
Horseshoe Lake SFWA            0              0           0
Mill Creek                     0              0           0
Mississippi River             14              0           0
Big Creek                      0              0           0
Mud Creek                      0              0           0
Big Muddy River                4              1           1
Tower Island Chute             0              0           0
Mermet Lake SFWA               0              0           0
Bay Creek                      0              0           0
Big Grand Pierre Creek         0              3           0
Lusk Creek                     0              0           0
Sugar Creek                    0              0           0
Cache River SNA                0              0           0
Dutch Creek                    0              0           0
LaRue Swamp                    0              0           0
Clear Creek                    0              0           0
Union County SFWA              0              0           0
Total                         18              4           1

                         No. captures by species

                          Apalone
Site                     spinifera

Cypress Creek NWR            1
Horseshoe Lake SFWA          7
Mill Creek                   1
Mississippi River            0
Big Creek                    6
Mud Creek                    0
Big Muddy River              1
Tower Island Chute           6
Mermet Lake SFWA             1
Bay Creek                    0
Big Grand Pierre Creek       1
Lusk Creek                   6
Sugar Creek                  2
Cache River SNA              1
Dutch Creek                 20
LaRue Swamp                  0
Clear Creek                 12
Union County SFWA            4
Total                       69
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Author:Bluett, Robert D.; Woolard, Daniel A.; Palis, John G.; Kath, Joseph A.
Publication:Transactions of the Illinois State Academy of Science
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1U3IL
Date:Jan 1, 2011
Words:2763
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