Spatial ecology and wetland use of aquatic turtles in the Coastal Plain of Georgia
King, Rachel Lauren
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The Southeastern Coastal Plain of the United States is a global hotspot of aquatic turtle diversity yet little is known about the basic spatial ecology and habitat selection for many species. I described the differences in aquatic turtle assemblages in streams and geographically isolated wetlands in the Dougherty Plain physiographic district of southwestern Georgia, and used occupancy modeling and radio-telemetry to identify wetland characteristics important for turtles. I also examined spatial patterns of overland movement and terrestrial habitat associations of turtles, and used the results to generate potential corridors of terrestrial movement between aquatic systems using Linkage Mapper and Circuitscape. My results suggest that both isolated wetlands and stream systems are needed to support turtle diversity in the region and that aquatic turtles may demonstrate a functional linkage between these systems. Moreover, turtles moving overland were most often found in natural forests rather than agricultural fields or pine plantations. Turtles also and used geographically isolated wetlands as stepping stones across the landscape, which highlights the collective importance of these landscape features for turtles.