ABSTRACT

Freshwater turtle populations are globally threatened by many factors. Complicating matters, their longevity requires long-term monitoring on the scale of decades to assess changes in population size, yet few long-term studies exist. Documenting population estimates and trends is essential for identifying and conserving imperilled populations, however, the impacts of many current threats may render populations endangered well before declines become apparent. By that stage, population recovery may not be possible, thus assessing population level impacts of potential threats may provide a direct measure of risks of population extinction. Australian turtles face major threats of mortality from invasive species, vehicles, disease and declining water quality. Even Australia's most abundant and widespread species has declined by up to 91% in some populations. Here I use population models to assess the impacts of threats to multiple life history stages of an Australia turtle. This study clearly demonstrates that Chelodina longicollis, Australia's most widespread turtle (1) is resilient to high levels of nest predation for sustained periods, (2) requires only periodic levels of reduced nest predation and pulse recruitment to maintain population viability and (3) low levels of adult mortality can drive populations to extinction. Turtle populations require pulse recruitment (i.e. nest predation rates declining to <35% every ten years) and monitoring of nest predation rates for 5–6 years to determine whether nest predation level profiles are extreme. However, if terrestrial mortality of adult turtles occurs, then the risk of extinction is high regardless of nest predation levels. Monitoring protocols to assess nest predation and adult mortality rates are not widely developed for freshwater turtles and here I develop a management plan that employs Citizen Science and standardised on-ground protocols to assess levels of threats at the population level. Standardised protocols and involvement of the public and community groups creates a network for broad-scale assessment and management of a species. Although threats can be identified and easily quantified and long-term data has demonstrated the extent of the decline of freshwater turtle populations in southern Australia, solutions to minimise risks of extinction need to be developed and fast-tracked before turtles throughout Australia become critically endangered.

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