Author ORCID Identifier


Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Integrative Life Sciences

First Advisor

Derek M. Johnson


Snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) are being harvested in unprecedented numbers in the United States (US) to meet the needs of international markets. Over three million live snapping turtles from farm and wild caught stock were exported from the US to Asia in 2012-14 alone. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, records indicate that 29,860 snapping turtles were commercially harvested between 2000 and 2015. Size limits are often used to regulate harvest pressure in snapping turtles and other game species. I analyzed the historic harvest of eleven US states to test the efficacy of minimum-size limit regulations at reducing commercial harvest pressure. Further, I conducted a four-year mark-recapture study on three Virginia waterways that have each experienced a different level of historic commercial harvest. As part of the larger mark/recapture project, I conducted radio telemetry on 23 turtles to examine seasonal, body size, and sex-specific effects on home range size of snapping turtles in a lotic system. I incorporated survival and growth rates from this study, demographic rates from the literature, and state-collected harvest rates into a hybrid age/stage population matrix model to estimate the population growth rate at three harvest levels (0%, 21%, 58%) that were estimated based on annual commercial landing reports on file with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. I used the model to test population viability under multiple size limit regulations, and used sensitivity analyses to identify adult stages most critical to the overall population growth rate.

Based on model estimates, size-limits were effective at reducing harvest by 30-87% in years with high harvest pressure. However, most size limit regulations result in the removal of larger breeding adults, which has been shown to be detrimental to long term population viability. Based on radio-telemetry data, I found evidence that snapping turtles utilize lotic and lentic habitats differently, which can have implications for management of this iconic species. Matrix population modelling predicted that population densities at the moderate and high harvest site were reduced by 47% and 62%, respectively, when compared to the no harvest site. Model results indicate that, while an increase to the minimum-size limit in 2012 protected a larger portion of the population, that the commercial harvest of snapping turtles in the Commonwealth of Virginia is not sustainable under current state regulations. Our analysis suggests that minimum-size limits of 35.6 cm curved carapace length or greater will maintain viable populations by protecting a larger portion of reproducing snapping turtles within a population.


IACUC AD10000461


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