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Schmidt photograph

Kimberly Rohling

Advisor: Dr. Eric Schauber

Habitat Selection of Ornate Box Turtles (Terrapene ornata)
within Restored and Remnant Tallgrass Prairies

The loss of grasslands has made their restoration a national priority for land management organizations. Approximately 2/3 of Illinois was once covered by prairie flora. This ecosystem, which was rich in biodiversity, was estimated to support communities that contained a minimum of 675 grasses, sedges and forbs. The loss of prairie occurred so rapidly that the ecological and intrinsic value of grasslands was never adequately assessed. In 1978, the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory determined 1/100 of 1% of original high-quality prairie survived, most of which was located near wetlands, cemeteries, and railroad where plowing was impossible. The ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata) is a prairie-obligate species. Although vital to tallgrass prairie ecosystems, this species has been understudied in Illinois, and the species' status may be more precarious than their threatened status implies. The goal of my research is to study microhabitat use and population characteristics of ornate box turtles, thereby providing a reference for land managers as they restore degraded agriculture fields to high-quality prairie.

My specific objectives are to determine microhabitat selection by ornate box turtles in remnant and restored prairies, and to evaluate factors that affect the demography of ornate box turtles. Conservation managers may utilize this data to encourage and maintain suitable habitat for ornate box turtles. Knowledge of the response of ornate box turtles to prescribed fire and mowing may elucidate which times of year that these management techniques could benefit or negatively affect turtle populations.