Endangered branding turtles face the threat of fungal disease

Biologists have been working on an endangered Blanding’s turtle recovery project in Illinois for 30 years. Blanding’s turtle numbers were declining due to increased predators and habitat destruction.

Currently, this species faces new threats. It is a fungal disease that eats up the shell and produces the effect of Swiss cheese.

Recently, three wild branding turtles in northeastern Illinois have been tested positive for fungi. A facility in the Chicago area, where turtles have just hatched turtles before they are released into the wild, also found that 40% of the water in their habitat tubs contained fungi.

“When we first learned that fungi, panic, and horror had occurred,” said Gary Growakki, Conservation Ecology Manager, Lake County Forest Reserve, where freshly hatched turtles are bred. I did.

“Looking at the big picture, we’re fortunate to be able to discover this early, and in the end we believe the recovery program will be more powerful,” Glowacki said. He has worked with branding turtles for over 20 years.

Since the recovery program began in 1994, biologists have raised nearly 6,000 young branding turtles and released them into wetlands in northern Illinois.

Scientists at the University of Illinois discovered a fungus after testing a turtle with shell disease in a zoo collection — naming it Emydomyces testavorans. They later confirmed that a wild population of endangered western pond turtles in Washington also had a fungal disease. Seashell disease can lead to infections and premature death.

Pathogens such as fungi and viruses usually appear in the environment, but “more fungal diseases are wild these days,” said Matt Arender, head of the Wildlife Epidemiology Institute at the Veterinary Diagnosis Institute at the University of Illinois. It appears in living things. “

For unknown reasons, it could be due to climate change, ecosystem deterioration, habitat loss, or depopulation.

“A study published 10 years ago found that 75% of emerging animal and plant infections were caused by fungi,” Allender said.

In Illinois, fungi similar to those found in turtles affect other reptiles, including the rattlesnake in eastern Massasauga, an endangered species in the country. According to Arender, the species has experienced a 90% mortality rate at its last location near Carlyle Lake in southwestern Illinois. Many species of Illinois snakes, including Lake County milk snakes, have been tested positive for fungi.

Fungal-induced white nose syndrome has killed millions of cave hibernating bats throughout the eastern United States since the early 2000s. It also devastated the Illinois population in LaSalle County, said Brad Semel, an endangered species recovery specialist at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Scientific articles report an increase in fungal diseases.Faculty of Environment, Yale University Reported in 2016 “The unprecedented global wave of toxic fungal infections is destroying an entire group of animals, from salamanders and frogs to snakes and bats.” Article published in American Society for Microbiology Cited an increase in plant and human fungal diseases in 2020.

In May, another fungus killed an endangered species Little Ringed Plover Monty, A popular fixture at Montrose Beach in the last three summers. However, the fungus is different from the species found in turtles, snakes, and bats, said Karen Terio, head of the Illinois University Animal Pathology Program in collaboration with the Arender.

For endangered species worldwide, such as Blanding’s turtle, the disease can be devastating, as the number of animals has already dropped significantly, Arender said.

After discovering the fungus in zoo animals, U. of I. pathologists decided to test branding turtles in Illinois, even though there were no signs of illness. The arranger said they caught the fungus early, and that it gives them hope to prevent the outbreak.

“All stakeholders are on the same page. We are working to save the turtles,” said the arranger. His team is testing signs of turtle, snake, and other reptile disease in a state program called the Wellness of Wildlife.

This summer, biologists plan to test the fungus in wetlands where branding turtles live in the Dupage, Lake, Cook, Kane, McHenry, Will, Lee, and Ogle counties.

Mr. Semel said his branding recovery program “literally stopped immediately. If we were introducing this new threat that we were unaware of, it could endanger these groups. We need to better understand our behavior to see if it is. “

Branding turtles have historically inhabited two-thirds of northern Illinois.

“In most cases, the remaining Blanding’s turtle populations are low and highly fragmented by roads and developments, as urbanization and the conversion of natural land through agriculture have significantly reduced the available habitat.” Said Semel.

The species was designated as an endangered species by the state in 2009 due to its significantly reduced population and distribution and its reliance on rare and vulnerable habitats.

“This is a species that requires historically existing sedge meadows and high quality wetlands. They are highlands for laying eggs, shallow sedge meadows for foraging in the summer, overwintering. We need deeper water for it, “Semel said.

According to Semel, only six counties remain in the surviving states: Lake, McHenry, Grandy, Carol, and Whiteside. This type of scope extends to New York, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is assessing whether Blanding’s turtles are listed as a federal endangered species.

Decades ago, researchers in northern Illinois discovered that when branding female turtles laid eggs, a growing number of raccoon-like predators in the state quickly dug them up and ate them. Did.

“There was no successful breeding,” Semel said. They had not found a young turtle that could start breeding at the age of 10.

The Head start project has started In McHenry County and DuPage County. Biologists wear wading boots during spawning and collect females. Be careful not to hurt the scalpel. They take the females to the laboratory, spawn and then return them to the wild. Female branding turtles do not participate in raising young offspring — they lay eggs — so taking eggs does not harm them, Semel said.

Biologists then raise freshly hatched turtles until the shells are hard enough to be large enough for the juveniles to be released into the wild without predation. Turtle Hatching facilities are now located in Chicago’s Peggy Notbert Nature Museum and Shedd Aquarium, Brookfield Zoo, Wheaton’s Cosley Zoo, McHenry County Reserve, and Lake County Forest Reserve.

“We are getting positive results every year,” Semel said. “Survival is rising and captive turtles are starting to breed in the wild. If successful, we thought we could add to the rest of Illinois’ population.”

At least for now, that won’t happen.

Terio said the fungi that affect branding turtles are the same that caused shell lesions in aquatic turtles from national and Washington zoological collections.

“More than 80% of Western pond turtles have pockets with shell disease,” Terio said.

According to Arender, his team has been testing branding turtles for a variety of illnesses over the past six years. In winter, they decided to test samples taken from wild turtles over the past few years for newly emerging fungi.

“I didn’t want Blanding’s turtles to go the way of Western pond turtles,” he said.

Branding turtle hatcheries are now establishing biosecurity protocols, including requiring employees to wear gloves before handling turtles that are known to be positive for the fungus. I am.

“The comprehensive principles of conservation ecology are: Do not harm,” Glowacki said. “It’s a scary idea to think that you can do more harm than good. We are at this crossroads. How do we continue to benefit from all our efforts? It’s a new wrinkle. Will be added. “

The general public who paid for adoption of turtles in the Lake County Forest Reserve program have been notified and many have agreed to donate money to prevent outbreaks, Growakki said.

According to Terio, a drug has been identified that can treat turtles with fungi.

“But the question is how to get the drug to the turtle. Can it be done as an implant or as a sustained release capsule?” She said.

Her department is also working on other strategies, such as filtration systems that use different wavelengths of light to target fungi, such as aquarium filters.

“We are trying to determine if any of these filtration methods are optimal not only for lowering fungal levels, but also for promoting the overall health of the turtle,” says Terio. I did. However, they need to be careful not to create a completely sterile environment. It said Terio “often is not a healthy environment.”

The Shedd Aquarium has been researching how best to implement a headstart project to support endangered turtles to prevent the spread of mold. The aquarium has eight western pond turtles from the Washington State Recovery Program, much like the Illinois Blanding’s Turtle Program.

According to Arender, his team is working with Blanding’s turtles from homeowners who are illegally reared in backyard ponds. The turtle was tested positive for the fungus.

“Within the last two months, I had the first negative test for a turtle that had been treated for eight or nine months,” he said. Treatment includes drugs, inhalers, and other methods, but according to Allender, more testing is needed to see what works best.

He added that it may take a long time before wild branding turtle remedies are readily available.

“I’m worried about treatment options. We have developed new treatments for fungal diseases of snakes, reducing mortality and morbidity. But turtle-spot disease is more problematic. There is, “said the arranger.

Biologists are wondering: They all have come out in the last few decades. “

According to Terio, humans are responsible for reasons such as climate change and ecosystem degradation. “It is our duty to do everything we can to help wildlife affected by these changes,” she said.

The Blanding’s turtle case also demonstrates the complexity of helping endangered species recover.

“It’s such a multifaceted approach,” Semel said. “People used to think. We no longer hunt them. That was the most direct approach. Then we realized we needed a place to live. Habitat management. Let’s then notice that there is climate change and some species may be out of timing. For example, Kerner’s blue butterflies hatch before food is available.

“Now we have added a health assessment … Illness will be a very important factor in understanding how to recover from endangered species,” Semel said.

Cheryl Devore is a freelance reporter.

Endangered branding turtles face the threat of fungal disease

Source link Endangered branding turtles face the threat of fungal disease

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