Spatiotemporal ecology of apalone spinifera in a large, great plains river ecosystem


Sparse information exists about the ecology of Spiny Softshell Turtles (Apalone spinifera) in large rivers, at the northwestern extent of their natural range, and in Montana, where they are disjunct from downstream populations and a State Species of Concern. We determined spatiotemporal ecology of 47 female and 12 male turtles from 2009 through 2012 and identified fundamental habitats in the Missouri River in east-central Montana. Movement rates of females were greater than those of males and peaked before nesting. Movement rates of males peaked before overwintering, and movement rates of both sexes were minimal in winter. Home range sizes were not different between sexes, varied among individuals and seasons, and were similar to those reported elsewhere in their northern range. Turtles aggregated and showed interannual fidelity to separate and disparate habitats in different seasons. Turtles often chose fine substrates, tributary confluences, and reaches with islands during summer and mainstem outside bends in the winter. They inhabited shallow, slow water velocity areas from May to September. They inhabited deeper, moderate velocity areas from October to April. We did not observe ice jams and associated riverbed scour at hibernacula, but did observe them elsewhere. Ice jams may be spatially predictable and influence the distribution of riverine turtles during autumn and winter. Preservation of dissimilar habitats used during major portions of the life cycle (lateral habitats, islands, and hibernacula) and natural streamflow patterns, which influenced timing of habitat availability and turtle movement, may facilitate continued existence of Spiny Softshell Turtles in the Missouri River in Montana.




Tornaben, Brian J. , Robert G. Bramblett, Alexander V. Zale, and Stephen A. Leathe. "SPATIOTEMPORAL ECOLOGY OF APALONE SPINIFERA IN A LARGE, GREAT PLAINS RIVER ECOSYSTEM." Herpetological Conservation and Biology 12, no. 1 (April 2017): 252-271. DOI:
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