Assisted colonisation trials for the western swamp turtle show that juveniles can grow in cooler and wetter climates - Journal

Date: 17, Sep, 2020
Author(s):   Alexandra Bouma, Gerald Kuchling, Sherry Yi Zhai, Nicola Mitchell
Publisher: Endangered Species Research

Species with restricted ranges and long generation times are vulnerable to climate change due to limited opportunity to disperse or adapt. Australia’s rarest reptile, the western swamp turtle Pseudemydura umbrina, persists naturally in only one seasonal swamp that holds water in the Austral winter and spring. A marked reduction in winter rainfall in recent decades has shortened the swamp hydroperiod, restricting when turtles are able to feed, grow and reproduce. To mitigate possible future loss of reproductive capacity in the native habitat, assisted colonisation was trialled in 2016 using 35 captive-bred juveniles. Here, we report the outcomes of this 6 month trial, which compared the growth of turtles released approximately 300 km south of the species’ indigenous range with growth of turtles released at an existing northern translocation site. We showed that growth rates comparable to those at warmer northern translocation sites can be achieved in the south, even in an atypically cool spring as occurred in 2016. Microclimates available to P. umbrina at 2 southern sites were suitable for foraging and growth in late spring and early summer, but juvenile growth at one southern site was significantly better than at the other, likely due to higher prey biomass when water temperatures were suitable for foraging. These early results suggest that introduction of P. umbrina to seasonal wetlands near the south coast of Western Australia could be considered in the immediate future, but further trials are recommended to assess growth and survivorship over longer periods.