Terrapin Nests - Beckett Hills

Thermal characteristics of the environment are important to the survival and daily function of reptiles, requiring regulation of internal body temperatures (Tb) according to external environmental temperatures. There are two main factors ectothermic organisms must manage in tidal environments: 1) large daily fluctuations in temperature from ebb and flow events, influencing activity and spatial location in order to avoid extremes or promote exposure; 2) environmental temperatures associated with foraging or nesting may fall outside optimal temperatures for physiological performance, influencing basic functions. Diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) are small brackish water turtles endemic to tidal marshes of the eastern seaboard of North America adapted to live within these cycles. In order to manage extremes, terrapins use microhabitats to maintain appropriate Tb via behavioral thermoregulation. For example, terrapin bask to increase body temperature, or use water to reduce body temperature, or burial in mud to achieve relatively stable Tb. Additionally, female terrapins must access upland sites above tidal inundation for nesting purposes. Access to areas with optimal physical and thermal characteristics essential for successful nesting can be limiting in salt marshes and may require long movements or exposure to extremes.

My research can be divided into two main foci: Predictive layer produced for North Inlet, SC

  1. Utilizing radio-tracking and thermal data-logging technology to collect spatial and time-series data for adult male and female terrapins in order to better understand the relationship between thermal regulation, spatial location, and activities throughout the summer nesting season.
  2. GPS nest locations collected during summer field surveys are being used to create a GIS model for the purposes of predicting likely nesting sites. Input variables are derived from available public data, such as elevation, slope and aspect from Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data or land classification attributes (soil, wetland, or land use) provided through various land agencies. A predictive raster layer will be generated for a segment of the North Inlet-Winyah Bay reserve area to be ground-truthed in the 2013 field season. A preliminary, binomial example layer (Figure 1, right) has been generated using a boolean-model within ArcMap's raster calculator. Input variables were based on the standard deviation for continuous data and preferred attribute types of categorical data using nest locations from surveys in 2012.

The use of GIS to identify critical habitat is the most relevant aspect of my research to leverage in the high school classroom. Land classification and evaluation using chosen criteria can invite a more complex discussion of concepts such as spatial ecology and tools for cost/benefit analysis analyzing surroundings or activities. These tools are currently applied in very diverse ways, benefiting land managers, conservationists, game managers, timber and fishing companies, or city planners. Incorporating such technology can invite students to explore their own thoughts about useful applications.

I envision incorporating my research through maps and spatial concepts. Using a simplified grid (raster) approach, students will be exposed to identifying areas of a map that have higher values based on the primary needs (i.e., food or nesting sites) of an organism, using terrapins as the animal of interest. Providing very basic examples, simple maps, and tools necessary to complete land classification and evaluation exercises, I intend to share the power of land analysis and how subjects can be quantified based on desired criteria (no computers necessary).

Check out the lesson plans developed through the GK-12 program, focused on delivering graduate level research into the classroom using inquiry-based teaching methods.

 
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