As the Unity College Wood Turtle Project approaches its five-year mark, Dr. Matthew Chatfield, Unity College Assistant Professor of Conservation Biology, his students, and Co-Principal Investigator Dr. Cheryl Frederick can rest assured that their research to help protect the species will continue well into the future, thanks to generous grants from five organizations.
The Dorr Foundation, The William P. Wharton Trust, the Davis Conservation Foundation, the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, and the Wildlife Division of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which has also served as a partner in the research, are supporting the project this year through grants totaling nearly $47,000.
“It is truly humbling and an honor to receive these grants and to know that these organizations are taking note of the important work that Dr. Chatfield and his students are conducting at Unity College,” said Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury. “I, myself, have been impressed by the research our students have conducted in the Wood Turtle Project. And the most rewarding part of all of this is that this research is not only helping to monitor and preserve wood turtle populations, but it is also giving our students an opportunity to take part in, and often lead, hands-on research akin to what they will be doing when they begin their career or continue their education in grad school. In fact, the project has been going on for so long, that alumni who worked with wood turtles as undergraduates are now in graduate school, potentially taking this work in new and exciting directions. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to seeing where this project goes and all the great work that comes from it in the coming years.”
The wood turtle has seen widespread decline through much of its range, and is listed as a species of special concern, vulnerable, threatened or endangered in 14 of the 17 states and provinces in which it inhabits. In Maine, the species is currently listed as a species of special concern.
Students with the project capture, mark, release, and recapture wood turtles using radio-telemetry to map and monitor their movement within their habitat. Each turtle found is tracked with a number, using the same system as the state of Maine because all of the gathered data is shared and used by The Wildlife Division of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. At least once a week, in fall and spring, students put on their waders and search for tagged and untagged turtles to collect that data.
Unity College has also recently taken a wounded wood turtle into its Animal Room, where students can learn how to care for the species, observe its behaviors, develop forms of stimulus and enrichment, and prepare educational presentations about it.
“My collaborators and I are grateful to the granting organizations for their support of the Wood Turtle Project and their interest in conservation, research and education,” said Dr. Chatfield. “Funds awarded through these recent grants are a huge step forward for the project as we will be able to continue foundational work we’ve initiated over the past few years and expand in new and exciting directions. Perhaps most importantly, however, we’re able to provide authentic research experiences to students interested in conservation, wildlife biology, and the protection of endangered species.”