Study compares town versus country turtles’ health

June 19, 2012 by  

First they were in hibernation and now they’re receiving lots of attention.

The Box Turtle Project is being conducted by St. Louis scientists from Washington University and the St. Louis Zoo to see whose stress levels are higher, country or city turtles.

The research project was conceived by Dr. Sharon Deem, director of the St. Louis Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Medicine, and her biologist husband Stephen Blake out of their zeal for the gigantic tortoises from the Galapagos Island. It is being supported by St. Louis Zoo’s conservation programs in the amount of $10,000.

Once a week, 20 turtles are observed within their natural environments. 10 of these are examined in Forest Park and the other 10 are studied at the Tyson Research Center, a more rural area of St. Louis County, by attaching battery-sized transmitters to the turtles’ backs to observe their movements.

The scientists aspire to know more about stress levels in turtles by monitoring the different groups’ hormones and calculating for certain types of toxin exposures like pesticides.

They wonder if stress levels are more pronounced in heavily populated areas or in less populated areas. The findings of this study could give researchers insight into environmental threats of which to be aware of different animals and even people.

Another goal of the study is to educate and expose children to creatures so they can learn to be good wardens of nature. Fifth and sixth graders from South City Preparatory Academy’s Eco Club helped track the turtles’ movements last Wednesday by listening for radio transmitted beeps. They spotted many turtles, including a turtle that was not part of the study.

Printing companies in St. Louis have been providing printing services to this project as researchers need to record and share data digitally and in print.