Population Status of the Megacephalic Map Turtles Graptemys pearlensis and Graptemys gibbonsi and Recommendations Regarding Their Listing under the US Endangered Species Act

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Biological Sciences


Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences


The Pascagoula map turtle (Graptemys gibbonsi) and Pearl map turtle (Graptemys pearlensis) were first separated from the Alabama map turtle (Graptemys pulchra) in 1992 under the former name and subsequently recognized as 2 separate species in 2010. The possibility that they should be listed under the Endangered Species Act was raised 7 yrs after separation from G. pulchra, when basking surveys showed that at most sites they were considerably less abundant than 2 sympatric congeners listed as threatened: the Pearl River drainage's ringed sawback (Graptemys oculifera, listed in 1986) and the Pascagoula River drainage's yellow-blotched sawback (Graptemys flavimaculata, listed in 1991). Historical data also indicated that the sympatric species pairs may once have been more similar in abundance. Now, more than 2 decades later, G. gibbonsi and G. pearlensis are candidates for listing. From 2015 to 2018, we surveyed basking turtles in point counts and in jon boat and canoe surveys and conducted trapping at several sites to ascertain the status of the 2 candidate species. Data were also combined with similar data collected between 2006 and 2014. Despite their similarity morphologically and in their basic ecology, 3 important differences are pertinent to the question of whether the 2 candidate species should be federally protected. First, their river systems are geomorphically very different. The medium-size to large tributary streams that the 2 species inhabit are a considerably more prominent feature of the Pascagoula drainage than the Pearl drainage and may insulate populations from potential threats on the main stems. Second, G. gibbonsi inhabited 35% more stream reach, had 22% higher catch per unit effort, and were recorded at 44% higher numbers in point counts and 3% higher numbers in basking density surveys than G. pearlensis. Coarse-scale estimates of each species' global populations suggest that G. gibbonsi is ∼ 1.56 times as abundant as G. pearlensis overall. Third, the reasons for the listing of each species' sympatric sawback congener are very different: G. oculifera of the Pearl drainage was listed primarily due to existing and imminent but as-yet-unrealized habitat modification, while G. flavimaculata of the Pascagoula drainage was listed primarily due to perceived low populations, particularly in upper portions of the drainage, and concerns regarding water quality. We conclude that G. pearlensis warrants conservation protection via a listing as threatened, while G. gibbonsi should be listed either as threatened or as threatened by similarity of appearance. For G. gibbonsi, the former option would recognize a long-term historical decline in its relative abundance suggested by trapping data from the 1950s through 1970s, while the latter would recognize its less imperiled status and protect it from the pet trade while focusing recovery efforts on G. pearlensis.

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Chelonian Conservation and Biology





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