Date of Award

Summer 2019

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences

Committee Chair

Carl P. Qualls

Committee Chair School

Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences

Committee Member 2

Brian R. Kreiser

Committee Member 2 School

Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences

Committee Member 3

Jake F. Schaefer

Committee Member 3 School

Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences


Turtles are one of the most threatened group of animals in existence today. The Southeastern United States is one of two global biodiversity hotspots for turtle species, including the state of Mississippi, where over 30 species can be found. However, very few studies have occurred within the state. This lack of research is even more startling given the ongoing decline, or even extirpation, of numerous turtle species across the world, due to a number of factors, including habitat degradation, and harvest for food or the pet trade.

The overarching goal of this project was to perform a species inclusive freshwater survey and document the distribution and abundances of the diverse species present here. A substantial amount of data was collected through these surveys, including morphometric measurements, genetic samples, and habitat data recorded at each trap location. These data were then used to determine if riverine habitat and surrounding land cover has any effect on turtle communities. Similarly, a state-wide population genetic study on the Spiny Softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera) was initiated.

The surveys performed for this study captured a total of 1,230 turtles, from 16 species. Analyses showed that land-use had no significant impact on turtle communities or species, but that habitat can be a predictor of species occurrence in some circumstances. Finally, our genetic analysis of A. spinifera from the Pascagoula and Pearl River drainages showed two distinct populations between the two drainages, but did not detect any intra-drainage populations structure.