These turtles were heavily harvested in the past for human consumption, which decimated populations from Texas to Florida, in part because of the species' low offspring survival rate.
Florida Fish and Wildlife surveys of the Suwannee River during the past three years show M. suwanniensis populations are higher than previously believed. Thomas said the species' survival remains a concern due to its restricted range and Florida law prohibits the possession, capture and pursuit of alligator snapping turtles.
"We hope the new study leads to greater conservation efforts and management plans customized to protect each individual species," Thomas said. "The key to conserving these species is to protect their habitats. If we protect the rivers, that is the biggest step toward protecting the wildlife that depend on them, especially in the case of the Suwannee species."
In the study, researchers examined the fossil record from 15-16 million years ago to the present and found morphological and genetic variations among the three species. Distinct variations were documented in the carapace, or shell, which can be easily observed in both living and fossil specimens.
"The western group (M. temminckii) is morphologically more primitive, but genetics testing suggests that the Suwannee snapper has a deeper divergence," said study co-author Jason Bourque, a vertebrate paleontologist with the Florida Museum of Natural History, "When alligator snappers show up in the fossil record, they look a lot like modern alligator snappers. They do not start showing
|Contact: Kenneth Krysko|
University of Florida