Tracy Swem, MS
Major Advisor: Gary Roloff
Area of Expertise: Prescribed Fire Effects on Eastern Box Turtles in South-central Michigan
Research: Prescribed fire is increasingly being used to delay vegetation succession, restore historical disturbance processes, recycle nutrients, manage wildlife habitat, and control exotic invasive vegetation (Knapp et al. 2009). The severity, uniformity, and spatiotemporal extents of prescribed fire influence vegetation pattern, productivity, and corresponding behavioral responses of fauna located within treated areas (Smith 2000). Although prescribed fire can be an effective and inexpensive tool for vegetation management, direct effects (including injury and mortality) and indirect effects (including changes in body condition and animal movements or interactions) are not well understood for k-selected, and relatively immobile species like the eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina). Terrapene spp. are historically found in habitat types subjected to fire throughout eastern North America, including grasslands, oak dominated woodlands, and mesic habitats which has led some scientists to conclude that box turtles are behaviorally adapted to resist mortality by fire (Means and Campbell 1981). An understanding of prescribed fire effects on eastern box turtles is especially relevant because eastern box turtle populations are declining range-wide (Swarth and Hagood 2004) and, in Michigan, are listed as a species of special concern (Hyde 1999). Recent data indicate that box turtles currently occur in only 20 of the historically occupied 31 counties in Michigan. I will quantify the short- (i.e., direct effects) and long-term (indirect effects) effects of prescribed fire on adult box turtles in southern Michigan. I will also quantify hatchling box turtle movements, winter refugia site selection, and burying behavior. Lastly, I will quantify the detection probability of adult box turtles during pre- and post-fire surveys.