Western pond turtle habitat improvement project update

Last spring the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden team led by Andrew Fulks, Director of UC Davis Putah Creek Riparian Reserve and Campus Naturalized Lands, collaborated with multiple partners to not only improve the Arboretum waterway, but provide a stable environment for campus researchers to study native western pond turtles.

Photo of western pond turtle habitat restoration area on the west end of the UC Davis Arboretum waterway.

PHOTO CAPTION: Volunteers from UC Davis student group Wild Campus planted tules along the waterway last spring. In the after photo you see the tules thrived and multiplied through the summer and as winter approaches are gradually going dormant.

Thanks to David Phillips and Michael Fan from the UC Davis Utilities department, this channel was regraded to create an area of unimpeded water flow with the added benefit of facilitating ongoing turtle study, researchers from UC Davis Wildlife and Fisheries Biology identified a habitat solution, the California Department of Fish and Game allowed our team to collect tules in one of their wildlife areas and volunteers from UC Davis student group Wild Campus assisted in collection of the tules from the Yolo County Water Basin as well as installation of the plants along the UC Davis Arboretum waterway. Erosion-control fabric and native seed will be installed on the banks adjacent to the tule planting this fall.

To read more about the history of this project and find out how our teams were able to accomplish this task click here.

Check out a slideshow of the tule harvest and transplantation here.

Found! Good home for Florida softshell turtle found in Arboretum waterway

Photo of profile of Florida softshell turtle found in UC Davis Arboretum waterway.

As you  have read previously, the GATEways Project team has been working closely with researchers from Wildlife and Fisheries Biology to create a habitat for the native Western pond turtle at the far west end of the Arboretum. (Read more here.)

On a related note, researchers from the same lab were able to capture a non-native predator of the Western pond turtle which has been eluding capture while living in the Arboretum waterway for four (4) years–a wily Florida softshell turtle that they’ve named Piggle Wiggle Pipsqueak–an apt name once you’ve seen his unusual nose!

They needed to find  a home for this impressive creature, but not just any home. Piggle Wiggle Pipsqueak needed a pond of at least 20 square feet stocked with small fish to satisfy his dietary needs and they found one! Piggle Wiggle Pipsqueak now happily resides in a moat surrounding the lemur island at the Micke Grove Zoo, in Lodi.

This story ended well, but the lesson remains…dumping any animal, especially non-native species, in the Arboretum, or anywhere, upsets our ecosystem and causes the animal (and our researchers) unnecessary stress!

View a slideshow of photos.

For turtle-curious types, check out an excerpt of the email that Adam Clause, Junior Researcher, sent about the capture on April 4, 2012…

I am pleased to announce that, as of 3:15pm this afternoon, the long-time resident adult Florida softshell turtle, Apalone ferox, from the UC Davis Arboretum has at last been captured. You can all sleep well tonight.

The turtle was caught with a large dipnet while basking at the far west end of the Arboretum, on the north shore ~100 feet east of the pine trees growing at the waterway margin. It is, contrary to most people’s expectations from field observations, a male animal. The species identification is clear. Diagnostic characters include the turtle’s oblong carapace, raised marginal carapacial rim, partial secondary nasal septa, and multiple rows of rounded hemispherical bumps at the leading edge of the carapace.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story behind this turtle, it is a former pet that was released into the Arboretum by unknown person(s) more than four years ago. It has defied all attempts at capture until now. This has included months of cumulative trapping efforts with submersible turtle traps, several weeks of fyke netting, and prior dipnetting attempts. A wily creature, to be sure.

The turtles are back!

Photo of newly calloped edges of UC Davis Putah Creek Waterway

PHOTO CAPTION: The shoreline here was recently re-graded and scalloped to create a habitat for the native Western Pond Turtle.

A couple of weeks ago a grading project was taking place along our Putah Creek waterway to provide a research venue for faculty and students in Wildlife and Conservation Biology, create a much-needed waterway improvement for our campus utilities department, AND restore the habitat of the native Western Pond Turtle. Read more about this unique collaboration here.

Good news! The turtles are already back despite the area’s current lack of landscaping. As of Saturday, a representative from the department of evolution and ecology reported that he saw several Western Pond Turtles basking on the newly-engineered, scalloped eastern shoreline.

What’s next?
Staff from the Putah Creek Riparian Reserve will coordinate revegetating the area with seeds from native grasses at UC Davis’s own Russell Ranch. They will also work to locate a source for tule, and work with volunteers to plant it.

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