Evaluating the health and physiology of threatened Blanding’s turtles

The Harden Lab and the Milanovich Lab are conducting research on the physiological health of captive-reared hatchling and juvenile endangered Blanding’s Turtles at captive-rearing programs in the Midwest. This research on the physiology and stress levels of Blanding’s Turtles will contribute to the gap in knowledge concerning the effects of captive-rearing efforts on their health and survival and allow for better recommendations regarding captive-rearing procedures. We are currently collaborating with and educating regional stakeholders on potential long-term impacts of head-starting and translocation programs. Read more about this research in the Benedictine University’s Spring 2017 magazine Voices.

Examining the ecology and physiology of Ornate Box Turtles in northern Illinois

With funding from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Harden Lab is collaborating with the Milanovich Lab in examining the characteristics of hibernaculum, home range sizes, blood chemistry, and stable isotopes of ornate box turtles (Terrapene ornata) at three sites in northern Illinois. This work involves several undergraduates at LUC.


Testing the utility of eDNA for determining the presence of bog turtles.

I was a Co-PI on a project to test the utility of environmental DNA (eDNA) to determine the presence of bog turtles by developing a detailed protocol for aquatic sampling to address the following objectives: 1) Develop, test, and refine field protocols for sampling water for bog turtle eDNA, 2) Determine how density of turtles influences our ability to use eDNA for detection, 3) Determine how season influences probability of detection of turtles using eDNA. 4) Compare the effectiveness of eDNA to traditional bog turtle sampling methods.

Population and reproductive biology of spotted salamanders. Publication.

In spring 2014 I coordinated undergraduate research projects on spotted salamanders at an isolated wildlife refuge wetland. We investigated various topics such as 1) the development and evaluation of individual identification methods for spotted salamanders, 2) various factors (environmental, trapping technique, sex, behavior) affecting detectability of spotted salamanders, and 3) the influence of sex and migration behavior on reproduction cost of spotted salamanders.

Seasonal physiology of diamondback terrapins. Publication 1. Publication 2. 

At UNCW I investigated the behavioral and physiological mechanisms that allow terrapins to inhabit a dynamic coastal ecosystem.  investigated the changes in terrapin osmotic and metabolic physiology from winter to spring in natural conditions using blood biochemistry and stable isotopes techniques.  This is the first experimental field study to investigate seasonal changes in body fluid dynamics of terrapins and has provided insight into the terrapin’s ability to maintain osmotic homeostasis while experiencing shifts in behavioral and environmental conditions. Finally, these findings shed light on the relative importance of behavioral and physiological adjustments that may have served as pivotal evolutionary steps in the freshwater chelonian invasion of marine environments.

*Laboratory-controlled osmoregulation and energy metabolism studies of terrapins are ongoing with colleague Amanda Southwood Williard at UNCW.

Spatial and temporal overlap of terrapins and blue crabs. Publication. 

With Dr. Amanda Southwood Williard, I investigated the seasonal changes in diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) activity and habitat use as it related to potential spatial and temporal overlap with the blue crab fishery – a source of terrapin bycatch and subsequent population declines along the US coast. To assess spatial overlap and resulting bycatch risk (BR), we calculated seasonal distributions and densities of crab pots and terrapins and incorporated them into a spatial overlap index model (SOI) modified to include the seasonal aquatic behavior of terrapins. This behaviorally modified SOI model may be applied to other geographic areas to identify areas and times of bycatch risk between fisheries and non-target species. Check out this Coastwatch article: Mapping the Overlap: Terrapins & Crab Pots in the Lower Cape Fear Region, this North Carolina Coastal Federation article: Looking for Answers to Help Terrapins, or this 2013 StarNews newspaper article Diamondback terrapins subject of UNCW student’s research.

Mud turtle habitat selection on golf course. Publication. 

As an undergraduate at Davidson College I conducted a radio-telemetry study of semi-aquatic eastern mud turtles inhabiting a golf course pond to investigate their terrestrial activity and habitat selection. I also monitored temperatures of mud turtles and their environment throughout the year. The combination of radiotracking and temperature microdataloggers allowed me to better understand fine scale habitat use and activity patterns of mud turtles that radiotelemetry alone could not provide. Information from this study can be used to better understand critical upland habitat requirements of other semi-aquatic species and aid in developing management plans. Click Turtle Tracking to read a Charlotte Observer newspaper article about my turtle research on a golf course.