Learned avoidance of trap locations in freshwater turtles

Hollender, Ethan C., Ligon, Day B., and McKnight, Donald T. (2023) Learned avoidance of trap locations in freshwater turtles. Wildlife Research. (In Press)

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Context. Understanding the effects that learned responses to being captured have on subsequent recapture rates and associated abundance estimates is important for developing accurate descriptions of populations and communities. Although variation in the willingness of individual turtles to be trapped is commonly mentioned in the literature, few studies have experimentally tested learned trap avoidance (or fondness) in turtles. Aims. To determine whether turtles learn to avoid traps, whether repositioning traps will lead to increased capture rates, whether this effect varies among species, and whether such relocations yield more accurate depictions of community structure. Methods. We studied a community of turtles in a small lake in southeastern Kansas that included populations of red-eared slider turtles (Trachemys scripta elegans) and common musk turtles (Sternotherus odoratus). We trapped the lake for 35 consecutive days by using two concurrently deployed groups of traps. One group remained stationary for the duration of the study, whereas traps comprising the other group were moved to new locations on Day 14 and returned to their original locations on Day 28, thus dividing the trapping season into three periods. Key results. For both species, capture rates declined over time. However, traps in the moved group captured more T. s. elegans than did those in the stationary group during the second period and more S. odoratus during the third period. Traps in the moved group also had higher recapture rates in the second period. Population abundance estimates based on captures from the moved group, the stationary group, and the pool of all captures were similar for T. s. elegans, but for S. odoratus the stationary group of traps produced an abundance estimate much lower than those generated from the moved group and the pool of all captures. Conclusions. Both species exhibited learned avoidance of trap locations, but relocating traps had distinct effects on different species, and the accuracy of the observed community structure was improved by relocating traps. Implications. The movement patterns and catchability of individuals of different species within a community must be taken into consideration when developing trapping protocols. Even high-intensity trapping over a long period may not generate an accurate sample of the community if different species use the spatial environment in substantially different ways and learn to avoid trap locations.

Item ID: 75888
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1448-5494
Keywords: abundance, behaviour, mark-recapture, population density, Sternotherus odoratus Trachemys scripta, turtle, vertebrates
Copyright Information: © 2022 The Author(s) (or their employer(s)). Published by CSIRO Publishing. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).
Date Deposited: 31 Aug 2022 08:33
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3109 Zoology > 310901 Animal behaviour @ 100%
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