Temporal and spatial variation in landscape connectivity for a freshwater turtle in a temporally dynamic wetland system

  • Roe J
  • Brinton A
  • Georges A
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Inter-wetland connectivity, defined here as the movement of biota among discrete water bodies, can have important population- and community-level consequences in aquatic systems. We examined inter-wetland connectivity in a southeastern Australian national park by intensively monitoring the movements of freshwater turtles (Chelodina longicollis) via capture-mark-recapture over a three-year period, and more sporadically for 25 years. A high percentage (33%) of turtles moved between wetlands, suggesting that single wetlands should not represent the minimum habitat unit harboring a C. longicollis population. Distance was the only structural landscape metric correlated with inter-patch transition probability, with probability declining as inter-wetland distance increased. Movements also appear to be strongly influenced by shifting resource quality gradients between temporary wetlands and permanent lakes according to drought and flood cycles, a pattern more consistent with migration between critical resource patches than occasional interpopulational dispersal. Rare dispersal events of up to 5.2 km were known to occur. Captures at a terrestrial drift fence suggest that small and immature turtles moved between wetlands more frequently than our aquatic sampling indicated. We caution that measures of actual (or functional) connectivity can be biased by sampling methods and the temporal scale of sampling and must also be interpreted in the context of factors that motivate animal movements. This requires some understanding of spatial and temporal variation in intra-patch processes (e.g., quality and extent) and the expected movement responses of animals (e.g., habitat selection) over extended time frames, information that can potentially yield more important insight on connectivity than measures of landscape structural features alone.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Chelodina longicolhs
  • Drought
  • Eastern long-necked turtle
  • Habitat quality
  • Inter-patch movement
  • Metapopulation
  • Migration
  • Movement probability
  • Multistate model
  • Southeastern Australia
  • Survivorship
  • Wetland conservation

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