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Hatchling short-necked turtles (Emydura macquarii) select aquatic vegetation habitats, but not after one month in captivity

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Knowledge of turtle hatchling ecology is fundamental for managing wild populations. Information on habitat selection by turtle hatchlings is particularly important to ensure that conservation programmes that release hatchlings into the wild give them the best chances of surviving to adulthood. Currently, knowledge of the ecology of turtle hatchlings worldwide is limited, which restricts evidence-based management for threatened species. Here, we used laboratory and field experiments to test for effects of captivity on habitat selection, movement, and short-term survival of Murray River turtle hatchlings (Emydura macquarii). This species has declined > 60% since the 1970s, and a conservation plan is urgently needed to manage their recovery. In both the laboratory and field, we found that hatchlings select aquatic vegetation when it is available. Hatchlings raised in captivity for a month, however, were radio-tracked in habitats significantly further from vegetation after release, and over three times as many of these hatchlings were attacked by predators, compared to those released immediately after hatching. Aquatic vegetation is clearly an important habitat for hatchling E. macquarii, and therefore, (i) hatchling conservation should prioritise areas with appropriate aquatic vegetation, and (ii) aquatic vegetation restoration should be prioritised to ensure E. macquarii hatchling survival in the wild. Moreover, since captivity affects hatchling habitat selection, E. macquarii hatchlings should be released immediately upon hatching. Further research on soft release techniques and longer-term captivity is required to determine whether the impact of captivity can be reduced.

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Data sets generated during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Code used during the current study is available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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We thank the Riverglades Community and particularly L. and S. Murray, for extensive logistic support. We also thank the Department of Environment and Water in Murray Bridge for support. We thank T. Burd, L. and S. Murray for field assistance and J. Paterson for helpful advice.


Our work was financially supported by Oatley Flora and Fauna Inc., Royal Society of Zoology NSW (Ethel Mary Read Research Grant), Nature Conservation Society of South Australia (Conservation Biology Grant), and all the ARC Linkage grant LP140100011 partners: DPI, Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife, Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation, North Central Catchment Management Authority, Save Lake Bonney Group Inc. and Winton Wetlands Committee of Management Inc.

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Correspondence to Claudia Santori.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests.

Ethical approval

All of our work was approved by the University of Sydney Animal Ethics Committee (laboratory experiment: 2017/1251; field experiment: 2018/1397). The E. macquarii used in our laboratory experiment were hatched under Western Sydney University Animal Ethics ARA: A11794. The eggs were collected under Victoria DELWP Permit 10008041, Victoria DEPI Fisheries Permit RP1225, and imported to NSW under OEH Licence SL101639. Our field work in South Australia was approved by SA Research Permit M26801-2 and PIRSA ME9903011. The incubation of eggs in NSW was approved through NSW import licence IE1814270 and export licence IE1814271, granted under OEH Licence SL100401.

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Santori, C., Spencer, RJ., Thompson, M.B. et al. Hatchling short-necked turtles (Emydura macquarii) select aquatic vegetation habitats, but not after one month in captivity. Aquat Ecol 55, 85–96 (2021).

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