GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Conservation of coastal rivers of the northern Gulf of Mexico is vital to the survival of the alligator snapping turtle, including two recently discovered species, University of Florida scientists say.
A new study appearing this week in the journal Zootaxa shows the alligator snapping turtle, the largest freshwater turtle in the Western Hemisphere and previously believed to be one species, is actually three separate species.
The limited distribution of the species, known to weigh as much 200 pounds, could potentially affect the conservation of rivers the turtles inhabit, including the Suwannee, said lead author Travis Thomas, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission scientist and former Florida Museum of Natural History volunteer who began the research as a UF wildlife ecology and conservation student.
"We have to be especially careful with our management of the Suwannee River species because this turtle exists only in that river and its tributaries," Thomas said. "If something catastrophic were to occur, such as a chemical spill or something that affects the entire river, it could potentially devastate this species. The turtle is extremely limited by its habitat. All it has is this river and it has nowhere else to go."
In the study, scientists revised the genus Macrochelys, often called the "dinosaurs of the turtle world" by lay people, to include Macrochelys temminkii and the two new species, Macrochelys apalachicolae and Macrochelys suwanniensis. Restricted to river systems that drain into the northern Gulf of Mexico, the species are divided by geography, which led to differences in genetics, said co-author Kenneth Krysko, a herpetologist with the Florida Museum on the UF campus.
"M. temminkii is found in river drainages such as the Mississippi and Mobile, while M. apalachicolae is confined to the Apalachicola and other Panhandle rivers," Kry
|Contact: Kenneth Krysko|
University of Florida