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Project ID: 14-3-01-30

Year: 2014

Date Started: 05/01/2013

Date Completed: 12/31/2015

Title: Fire Effects on a Special Concern Species, the Eastern Box Turtle

Project Proposal Abstract: Throughout North America, tension often exists between advocates of prescribed fire as an ecosystem restoration tool and herpetologists, primarily because fire effects on rare reptile and amphibian species are poorly understood. Research is needed that informs the implementation of prescribed fire programs in a manner that achieves the burn objectives (e.g., restoration, invasive species control, fuels management) while mitigating potentially negative fire effects on rare animals. The eastern box turtle, Terrapene carolina carolina, is experiencing population declines across much of its range; in Michigan, box turtles are listed as a species of special concern. Prescribed fire is used as a management tool in many areas where eastern box turtles are found. Despite declines, published literature has not fully described the relationships between prescribed fire and box turtles, particularly indirect effects. Fire effects include an understanding of hatchling age class vulnerability to frequent fire regimes, effectiveness of post-fire species inventories, and investigating longer-term responses to fire using body index as an indicator. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) regularly uses prescribed fire to restore degraded ecosystems to prairie and savanna, but this prescribed fire program may conflict with box turtle conservation goals. Prescribed fires are often restricted to late fall and early spring when box turtles are still in subterranean winter retreats. As a result, MDNR is annually restricted to a narrow burn window during which fuel conditions are often less than optimal for achieving restoration objectives. To accomplish restoration objectives, MDNR has increased fire frequency on specific sites; some sites have been burned annually at substantial costs with minimal knowledge of fire effects on local ecological communities. With support from the MDNR - Parks Division, we propose to study the direct and indirect effects of prescribed fires on eastern box turtles. Questions specifically addressed include: Did the fires accomplish the vegetation restoration management goals? Do box turtles actively seek refuge during a fire? What is the injury and mortality associated with characteristics of heat and gas exposure? What are the longer-term effects and differences in behavior after a fire for each individual? Are these significantly different from a control group? Are hatchling box turtles susceptible to annual spring fires common to the habitat types (grasslands) where their nests are usually located? Do hatchlings move out of these areas in the fall or spring? How effective are post-burn survey techniques in detecting this cryptic species? To answer the above questions, we have identified 3 box turtle sub-populations at our study site based on their utilization distributions and assigned each sub-population a treatment: Control, Spring Burn, and Growing Season Burn. We have coordinated burn plans with MDNR fire managers and will implement the burns in 2014. Following each fire, adult and hatchling turtles will be assessed for direct injury and mortality associated with exposure to heat and smoke, and will also be monitored for indirect longer-term effects such as changes in weight gain and growth, winter refuge site selection, nesting site selection, clutch size, and changes in habitat utilization distributions per individual. Direct behavior within a fire will be characterized using fireproof thread trailing devices or GPS dataloggers. We will conduct post-fire detection probability surveys using a marked subpopulation of adults and develop a hatchling vulnerability assessment using known fire units and hatchling behavior. Importantly, we will also assess vegetative response to the different burns to gain insight into restoration effectiveness.

Principal Investigator: Gary J. Roloff

Agency/Organization: Michigan State University

Branch or Dept: Fisheries and Wildlife

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Agreements Contact

Craig E. O’Neill

Michigan State University

Office of Sponsored Programs

Budget Contact

Patricia J. Hampton

Michigan State University

Office of Sponsored Programs

Funding Cooperator

Kasey K. Schiellerd

Michigan State University

Office of Sponsored Programs

Student Investigator

Tracy A. Swem

Michigan State University

Fisheries and Wildlife

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network









State Lands

Project Deliverables

Final Report view or print

("Results presented in JFSP Final Reports may not have been peer-reviewed and should be interpreted as tentative until published in a peer-reviewed source.")

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Supporting Documents

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