Abstract

Historic commercial collecting of the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) appears to have severely reduced populations throughout much of its range. In this study, we analyze 8 seasons of turtle-trapping data from 11 major rivers in southern Alabama and provide the first report on the status of the species in the state. During 1332 trap nights, we captured 93 M. temminckii in 7 rivers in south Alabama. We recorded relatively low overall catch per unit effort (CPUE; 0.062 using paired hoop nets connected by a lead net, 0.081 using single-baited hoop nets) compared with recent studies from other states. By evaluating relative abundances, size distributions, and sex ratios, we document variation in abundance among independent river populations as well as unexpected sex ratios. In particular, the Fowl River population is characterized by unexpectedly high abundance (0.478 CPUE) and may represent historic population conditions prior to commercial trapping. We discuss distribution and abundances, conservation concerns, and the significance of the Fowl River with respect to the recovery of populations throughout the species' range. This study contributes baseline population data to better understand the ecology and conservation of M. temminckii both in Alabama and across its entire range.

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