Impacts of hydrologic change on sandbar nesting availability for riverine turtles in eastern minnesota, USA

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There have been significant increases in stream flow in many rivers of the Upper Midwestern United States since 1980. Increased summer flows may negatively impact ecological processes, including aquatic organisms' life cycles. The smooth softshell (Apalone mutica) and wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) are threatened by alteration of stream flow regime and other changes to river ecosystems in the Upper Midwest. We hypothesized that prolonged duration of high summer flows would reduce time available for nesting. We assessed hydrologic change using the Indicators of Hydrologic Alteration program and stream gauge data, characterized physical properties of sandbars, surveyed turtle nesting sites and assessed historical channel change using aerial photos in GIS on five Upper Midwest rivers. A river stage-sandbar area relationship was developed to determine the effect of prolonged summer flow duration on turtle nesting opportunity for the 1940-2009 time period. Suitable water levels have declined since 1980 in the agricultural watersheds of southern Minnesota likely delaying hatching and reducing survival, particularly for aquatic turtles such as A. mutica. In contrast to the agricultural watersheds, there was no significant change in the northern forested rivers' stream flow and sandbar availability during the nesting season. Management to reduce summer stream flow in agricultural watersheds and protection of known nest sites could benefit threatened aquatic turtle populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1243-1261
Number of pages19
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2013


  • Apalone Mutica
  • Glyptemys Insculpta
  • Hydrologic Alteration
  • Minnesota
  • Nesting
  • Sandbar

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