Abstract

Despite its biological importance in shaping both individual fitness and population structure, much remains to be learned about the hatchling emergence ecology of most freshwater turtles. Here, we provide some of the first details on these early life stages for the Ouachita map turtle (Graptemys ouachitensis) obtained during 2015–2017 along the lower Wisconsin River, Iowa County, Wisconsin, and integrate our results into related research within the genus Graptemys. Dedicated trail cameras over in situ turtle nests provided otherwise difficult to obtain observational data relevant to natural hatchling emergence without disturbing nests or hatchlings. In contrast to some earlier reports for Graptemys, hatchling emergence was mostly diurnal and synchronous, primarily in the morning soon after soil temperatures began to rise from overnight low values. Data suggest a temperature change model of cueing hatchling emergence, which may represent a local or regional adaptation to reduce nocturnal predation risks, mostly from raccoons (Procyon lotor), or may simply reflect default diurnal hatchling activity patterns when not affected by thermal constraints. Aside from predation, hatchlings on this small study site are affected by vegetative shading, leading to relatively long times to first emergence periods (mean, 82.3 d), low mean nest temperatures (25.9°C), and a likely male-biased sex ratio. These findings highlight the value of hatchling emergence studies in revealing important influences on population viability and in guiding appropriate habitat management in conservation efforts.

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