Can the Range and Distribution of a Rare, Cryptic Turtle Species be Delineated using eDNA?
Mentor: Dr. Tom Langen
A fundamental information need for conserving a rare or threatened species is to understand what its distribution within its range and its range limits. The Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingi) is a species that is considered to be globally threatened – it is listed as threatened or endangered in every state or province in which it occurs. It is a species with a distribution which includes many small, isolated populations. Northeastern New York is the range limit for one population. The Blanding’s turtle occurs at low densities within the wetlands it occupies, and it is labor intensive to determine with confidence that Blanding’s turtles are present or absent from a wetland using standard survey methods (trapping, cisual scans). For this project, an REU student will investigate whether Blanding’s turtles can be detected using environmental DNA (e-DNA). The use of e-DNA to survey for presence of turtles, fish, and other animals is quite new, and the technique promises to revolutionize population monitoring for rare and cryptic species, should it be valid. The REU student will help validate this technique by surveying sites that are known to have Blanding’s turtles present, sites where the species is known to be absent, and sites that are unknown. The research will include field work, laboratory work, and analysis of data using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The products of this research will be used to validate e-DNA sampling as a methods of population survey for Blanding’s Turtle, and use it to help validate a habitat occupancy model that my lab has published, which is intended to serve as a tool for conservation of this turtle species.