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Overview

Brief Summary

Summary

The Coahuilan Box Turtle, Terrapene coahuila (Family Emydidae), endemic to the Cuatro Ciénegas Basin of central Coahuila, Mexico, is internationally recognized as endangered due to its naturally restricted geographic range and substantial loss of habitat in the past half-century. The only extant aquatic member of the genus, T. coahuila is a small species (carapace length to 230 mm) that occupies shallow wetland habitats distributed across the Cuatro Ciénegas valley floor. Water diversion from man-made canals within the basin, and groundwater exploitation in contributing aquifers outside of the basin, have lowered the valley’s water table and resulted in widespread wetland habitat desiccation, thus jeopardizing the species’ viability. The most extensive aquatic habitat loss has occurred in the western portion of the basin, west and northwest of Sierra de San Marcos y Pinos, where a genetically distinct subpopulation of T. coahuila resides. Habitat loss threatens the persistence of T. coahuila, and if not curtailed, will lead to the extinction of the species in the wild in Cuatro Ciénegas. Proposed conservation measures include: 1) upgrading the species’ conservation status with the Mexican government from a Species of Special Protection to Endangered, 2) formulating an integrative species management plan with the Mexican government that includes local and regional regulation and monitoring of water extraction to ensure persistence of critical wetland habitats, 3) long-term monitoring of key populations, including estimation of population size and density, 4) identification and preservation of critical dispersal corridors associated with long-distance movements of migratory populations, and 5) measures to reduce road mortality.
  • Howeth, J.G. and Brown, W.S. 2011. Terrapene coahuila Schmidt and Owens 1944 – Coahuilan Box Turtle. In: Rhodin, A.G.J., Pritchard, P.C.H., van Dijk, P.P., Saumure, R.A., Buhlmann, K.A., Iverson, J.B., and Mittermeier, R.A. (Eds.). Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises: A Compilation Project of the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. Chelonian Research Monographs No. 5, pp. 049.1–049.13, doi:10.3854/crm.5.049.coahuila.v1.2011, http://www.iucn-tftsg.org/cbftt
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Distribution

Range Description

Restricted to the Cuatro Ciénegas basin, Coahuila, Mexico (Iverson 1992, Dodd 2001).
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Mexico. Restricted to the Cuatro Ciénegas Basin, Coahuila.
  • Howeth, J.G. and Brown, W.S. 2011. Terrapene coahuila Schmidt and Owens 1944 – Coahuilan Box Turtle. In: Rhodin, A.G.J., Pritchard, P.C.H., van Dijk, P.P., Saumure, R.A., Buhlmann, K.A., Iverson, J.B., and Mittermeier, R.A. (Eds.). Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises: A Compilation Project of the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. Chelonian Research Monographs No. 5, pp. 049.1–049.13, doi:10.3854/crm.5.049.coahuila.v1.2011, http://www.iucn-tftsg.org/cbftt
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Continent: Middle-America
Distribution: Mexico (Cuatro Cienegas basin of Coahuila)  
Type locality: "Cuatro Cienegas, Coahuila," Mexico.
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Historic Range:
Mexico

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Ecology

Habitat

Chihuahuan Desert Habitat

This taxon is found in the Chihuahuan Desert, which is one of the most biologically diverse arid regions on Earth. This ecoregion extends from within the United States south into Mexico. This desert is sheltered from the influence of other arid regions such as the Sonoran Desert by the large mountain ranges of the Sierra Madres. This isolation has allowed the evolution of many endemic species; most notable is the high number of endemic plants; in fact, there are a total of 653 vertebrate taxa recorded in the Chihuahuan Desert.  Moreover, this ecoregion also sustains some of the last extant populations of Mexican Prairie Dog, wild American Bison and Pronghorn Antelope.

The dominant plant species throughout the Chihuahuan Desert is Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata). Depending on diverse factors such as type of soil, altitude, and degree of slope, L. tridentata can occur in association with other species. More generally, an association between L. tridentata, American Tarbush (Flourensia cernua) and Viscid Acacia (Acacia neovernicosa) dominates the northernmost portion of the Chihuahuan Desert. The meridional portion is abundant in Yucca and Opuntia, and the southernmost portion is inhabited by Mexican Fire-barrel Cactus (Ferocactus pilosus) and Mojave Mound Cactus (Echinocereus polyacanthus). Herbaceous elements such as Gypsum Grama (Chondrosum ramosa), Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis) and Hairy Grama (Chondrosum hirsuta), among others, become dominant near the Sierra Madre Occidental. In western Coahuila State, Lecheguilla Agave (Agave lechuguilla), Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), Purple Prickly-pear (Opuntia macrocentra) and Rainbow Cactus (Echinocereus pectinatus) are the dominant vascular plants.

Because of its recent origin, few warm-blooded vertebrates are restricted to the Chihuahuan Desert scrub. However, the Chihuahuan Desert supports a large number of wide-ranging mammals, such as the Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana), Robust Cottontail (Sylvilagus robustus EN); Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus), Grey Fox (Unocyon cineroargentinus), Jaguar (Panthera onca), Collared Peccary or Javelina (Pecari tajacu), Desert Cottontail (Sylvilagus auduboni), Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus), Kangaroo Rats (Dipodomys sp.), pocket mice (Perognathus spp.), Woodrats (Neotoma spp.) and Deer Mice (Peromyscus spp). With only 24 individuals recorded in the state of Chihuahua Antilocapra americana is one of the most highly endangered taxa that inhabits this desert. The ecoregion also contains a small wild population of the highly endangered American Bison (Bison bison) and scattered populations of the highly endangered Mexican Prairie Dog (Cynomys mexicanus), as well as the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus).

The Chihuahuan Desert herpetofauna typifies this ecoregion.Several lizard species are centered in the Chihuahuan Desert, and include the Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum); Texas Banded Gecko (Coleonyx brevis), often found under rocks in limestone foothills; Reticulate Gecko (C. reticulatus); Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus); several species of spiny lizards (Scelopoprus spp.); and the Western Marbled Whiptail (Cnemidophorus tigris marmoratus). Two other whiptails, the New Mexico Whiptail (C. neomexicanus) and the Common Checkered Whiptail (C. tesselatus) occur as all-female parthenogenic clone populations in select disturbed habitats.

Representative snakes include the Trans-Pecos Rat Snake (Bogertophis subocularis), Texas Blackhead Snake (Tantilla atriceps), and Sr (Masticophis taeniatus) and Neotropical Whipsnake (M. flagellum lineatus). Endemic turtles include the Bolsón Tortoise (Gopherus flavomarginatus), Coahuilan Box Turtle (Terrapene coahuila) and several species of softshell turtles. Some reptiles and amphibians restricted to the Madrean sky island habitats include the Ridgenose Rattlesnake (Crotalus willardi), Twin-spotted Rattlesnake (C. pricei), Northern Cat-eyed Snake (Leptodeira septentrionalis), Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus jarrovii), and Canyon Spotted Whiptail (Cnemidophorus burti).

There are thirty anuran species occurring in the Chihuahuan Desert: Chiricahua Leopard Frog (Rana chircahuaensis); Red Spotted Toad (Anaxyrus punctatus); American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus); Canyon Treefrog (Hyla arenicolor); Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans); Rio Grande Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus cystignathoides); Cliff Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus marnockii); Spotted Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus guttilatus); Tarahumara Barking Frog (Craugastor tarahumaraensis); Mexican Treefrog (Smilisca baudinii); Madrean Treefrog (Hyla eximia); Montezuma Leopard Frog (Lithobates montezumae); Brown's Leopard Frog (Lithobates brownorum); Yavapai Leopard Frog (Lithobates yavapaiensis); Western Barking Frog (Craugastor augusti); Mexican Cascade Frog (Lithobates pustulosus); Lowland Burrowing Frog (Smilisca fodiens); New Mexico Spadefoot (Spea multiplicata); Plains Spadefoot (Spea bombifrons); Pine Toad (Incilius occidentalis); Woodhouse's Toad (Anaxyrus woodhousii); Couch's Spadefoot Toad (Scaphiopus couchii); Plateau Toad (Anaxyrus compactilis); Texas Toad (Anaxyrus speciosus); Dwarf Toad (Incilius canaliferus); Great Plains Narrowmouth Toad (Gastrophryne olivacea); Great Plains Toad (Anaxyrus cognatus); Eastern Green Toad (Anaxyrus debilis); Gulf Coast Toad (Incilius valliceps); and Longfoot Chirping Toad (Eleutherodactylus longipes VU). The sole salamander occurring in the Chihuahuan Desert is the Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum).

Common bird species include the Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus), Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia), Merlin (Falco columbarius), Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), and the rare Zone-tailed Hawk (Buteo albonotatus). Geococcyx californianus), Curve-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostra), Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamata), Scott’s Oriole (Icterus parisorum), Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata), Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens), Worthen’s Sparrow (Spizella wortheni), and Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus). In addition, numerous raptors inhabit the Chihuahuan Desert and include the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) and the Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi).

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
The Cuatro Cienegas basin is an hourglass-shaped intermontane basin of about 50 km long and 8 to 24 km wide (about 600 sq. km), its floor being at 720 m altitude. Much of the central part of the basin is marshy (maximum 60 cm water depth), with dry sandy slopes leading up the rocky valley slopes. Many of the marshes and ponds are spring-fed. A number of deep (up to several metres) ponds occur within the marshy area, and retain crystal-clear water throughout the year. About half the bottom is covered by dense submerged aquatic vegetation (mainly Chara), the other half is bare sediment. Waterlilies grow in the shallow parts, and thick stands of cattails (Typha) and Eleocharis fringe the ponds. Water temp is about 27 to 29°C. Ponds may be separated from dry nesting areas on the slopes by substantial distances (several 100 m) of flat marshy grassland. (Webb and Legler 1960). In contrast to other Terrapene species, T. coahuila is fully aquatic. Within the Cuatro Cienegas basin, T. coahuila occurs mainly in the shallow marshy areas, but has also been encountered in the river and clear deep pools (Dodd 2001).

T. coahuila is largely a resident species that does not disperse widely, as indicated by both natural history studies of this aquatic species in a desert environment, and the significant differences in genotypic composition of the populations at different sites in pairwise comparisons, indicating limited gene flow between sites (Howeth in litt. 24 Jan 2007).

T. coahuila feeds on almost equal proportions of aquatic and wind-blown insects and their larvae (54%) and plant matter (46%) (review by Dodd 2001).

Male Coahuila box turtles can reach up to 16.8 cm CL, females remain a little smaller (Dodd 2001). The size and age at maturity have apparently not been reported.

Average clutch size in captive animals varies between 3.8 and 5.0, and several clutches are produced per year (Tonge 1987, Cerda and Waugh 1992). The maximum reproductive output per female is about 11 eggs per year, but for about one-third of examined females it is as low as 6.8 eggs/year (Brown 1974 in Dodd 2001).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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Life History and Behavior

Life Expectancy

Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 18.8 years (captivity)
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Terrapene coahuila

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EN
Endangered

Red List Criteria
A2c+4c; B1ab(i,ii,iii,iv,v)+2b(i,ii,iii,iv,v)

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2007

Assessor/s
van Dijk, P.P., Flores-Villela, O. & Howeth, J.

Reviewer/s
Buskirk, J.R., Iverson, J.B. & Rhodin, A.G.J. (Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Red List Authority)

Contributor/s

Justification
Listed as Endangered A4c, B1ab(i,ii,iii,iv,v)+2ab(i,ii,iii,iv,v) because it is known from only a single location, where it is restricted to a small number of sites with appropriate habitat; its area of occupancy has shrunk from approximately 600 sq. km in the late 1960s to an estimated 360 sq. km in 2002; within this area, the species only occurs in specific marsh areas, several of which have been lost through desiccation and vegetation changes during that period. These impacts are ongoing and unlikely to be stopped and reversed in the foreseeable future.

The genetic structure of the species indicates that the populations at various sites are largely isolated and the species thus qualifies as fragmented.
Population surveys indicate a steep decline in the total number of animals, from 148 animals per hectare of suitable habitat in the 1960s (when suitable habitat comprised hundreds of hectares, thus likely well over 10,000 mature animals) to about 2,500 mature animals in total in 2002-2003; at an estimated generation time of 15 years (by analogy with other Terrapene species and observed growth rates in captivity), this is a reduction of over 70% of mature animals in three generations. The species may also qualify under criterion C1, but more robust population studies are needed to confirm this.

History
  • 1996
    Endangered
  • 1994
    Vulnerable
    (Groombridge 1994)
  • 1990
    Vulnerable
    (IUCN 1990)
  • 1988
    Vulnerable
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
  • 1986
    Vulnerable
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
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Current Listing Status Summary

Status: Endangered
Date Listed: 06/04/1973
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10) 
Where Listed: Entire


Population detail:

Population location: Entire
Listing status: E

For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Terrapene coahuila , see its USFWS Species Profile

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Status

IUCN 2011 Red List: Endangered (EN A2c+4c; B1ab (i, ii, iii, iv, v) + 2b (i, ii, iii, iv, v)) (assessed 2007); CITES: Appendix I; US ESA: Endangered; Mexico: Species of Special Protection.
  • Howeth, J.G. and Brown, W.S. 2011. Terrapene coahuila Schmidt and Owens 1944 – Coahuilan Box Turtle. In: Rhodin, A.G.J., Pritchard, P.C.H., van Dijk, P.P., Saumure, R.A., Buhlmann, K.A., Iverson, J.B., and Mittermeier, R.A. (Eds.). Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises: A Compilation Project of the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. Chelonian Research Monographs No. 5, pp. 049.1–049.13, doi:10.3854/crm.5.049.coahuila.v1.2011, http://www.iucn-tftsg.org/cbftt
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Population

Population
The only available population estimate is that of Brown (1974), who calculated a density of 148 Terrapene per hectare of marsh during 1964-66. By the beginning of the 1990s it was believed to be uncommon, and a mark-recapture study in 2002-2003 of about two thirds of suitable T. coahuila habitat marked about 750 turtles with 50 to 80% recapture rates, extrapolating to a total population size at the order of about 2,500 adult animals (Howeth in litt. 26 Feb 2007).

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
The Cuatro Cienegas basin has been extensively altered in its hydrology by digging canals and groundwater pumping for local and regional agricultural irrigation, and for drinking water (Howeth in litt 24 Jan 2007, Flores-Villela in litt. 25 Jan 2007, Hendrickson in litt. 27 Feb 2007). The western side of the basin is experiencing particularly rapid aquatic habitat loss; Laguna Grande was completely dry in 2006. According to current residents of Cuatro Ciénegas, and Dr. Dean Hendrickson, this was the first time anyone had seen it dry (this encompasses at least 50 years, conservatively) (Howeth in litt 24 Jan 2007).

In 2002, surveys of box turtle sites by a team including Brown (who studied the species 34 years previously) located the marshes where Brown worked in the 1960s. The survey indicates that the species has disappeared from about 40% of its former extent of occurrence, while remaining wetland areas within the area of occurrence have become less suitable (or unsuitable) as habitat for T. coahuila as a result of desiccation and altered vegetation structure (Howeth in litt 24 Jan 2007).

Roads, railroads, pipelines and other infrastructure for industrial, logistic, tourism and recreational purposes have impacted the ecosystem, and some of these environmental impacts continue. In the last decade it is known there has been tourist development, and farming expansion continues (Reuters 2007). Roads and fires have created direct-mortality impacts (Howeth in litt. 24 Jan 2007). There is a potential threat from the global pet trade (at least partly met by captive breeding, see Conservation Actions). Hybridization is not an issue for T. coahuila, in contrast to its sympatric turtle species.
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Turtles in general are protected from exploitation under Mexican wildlife and natural resource legislation. T. coahuila is included in CITES Appendix I.

The entire range of the species falls within the 843 sq. km Cuatro Cienegas Flora and Fauna Protection Area (IUCN Category VI), established in 1994. Provided no further major engineering works impact the ecological integrity of the Cuatro Cienegas basin, and the protected area regulations are adhered to, the species and its habitat should be relatively secure; however, recent and ongoing developments as well as plans for further development involve broad-scale ecological processes (water extraction, agriculture, infrastructure development) that will continue to impact the habitat in the foreseeable future. Such development must be managed and their impacts minimized as much as possible. Conservation efforts should be focused on halting habitat loss, especially in the western portion of the basin where the remaining population shows high levels of genetic distinctness (Howeth in litt., 24 Jan 2007).

Ex situ conservation breeding has been sufficiently successful that several zoo assurance colonies now exist, and small numbers of surplus animals have transferred to dedicated hobbyists, eliminating any need for collection and smuggling of wild animals to meet very limited hobbyist demand.

An updated population status report and further biological research and status monitoring are priority actions.
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Wikipedia

Coahuilan box turtle

The Coahuilan box turtle (Terrapene coahuila), or aquatic box turtle, is an endangered species of turtle in the Emydidae family. Unlike the other members of Terrapene, this turtle spends roughly 90% of its time in water.[2]

It is a close relative to the Common box turtle (T. Carolina). Researchers has therefore suggested that it developed from a non-aquatic species in order to survive in the desert-springs of Cuatro Ciénegas.[2]

Geographic range[edit]

It is endemic to the vicinity of Cuatro Ciénegas in Coahuila, Mexico.[3] Within an area of less than 800 km², there are several distinct pockets of this species. During the rainy season, turtles may leave their home range and travel throughout the desert.[2]

Habitat[edit]

It is associated with marshes and springs, and is the only aquatic species within its genus.[2] It is typically encountered among tall grass and brush in marshy areas, and prefers shallow water with dense vegetation (such as Chara spp, Eleocharis rostellata, and Scirpus olneyi) and a muddy bottom.[3] By digging down into the mud, the turtle can cool itself down.

Description[edit]

The body is adapted for spending long periods of time in the water, and the shell is often covered in algae. Just like any other box turtle, is has a hinged shell that can be completely closed. The skin is dark; usually dark brown and dark gray, but some areas can appear completely black.[2]

Diet[edit]

This is an opportunistic feeder that will devour both plants and other animals. It will for instance eat fly larvae, dragonfly nymphs, beetles, true bugs, reptiles, fish, crayfish and plant matter (such as Eleocharis spp.) in the wild.[3]

Reproduction[edit]

Mating takes place in shallow water from September to June, and eggs are laid from May to September. The eggs are laid in small clutches, typically consisting of just 2-3 eggs per clutch.[2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Fritz, Uwe; Peter Havaš (2007). "Checklist of Chelonians of the World". Vertebrate Zoology 57 (2): 200. Archived from the original on 2010-12-17. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f William Berg. "Aquatic or Coahuilan Box Turtle – Terrapene Coahuila". Retrieved 28 July 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c Brown, W. S (1974). "Ecology of the aquatic box turtle Terrapene coahuila (Chelonia, Emydade), with comments on its evolutionary status". Bulletin of the Florida State Museum 19: 1–67. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Schmidt, K.P., and D.W. Owens. 1944. Amphibians and Reptiles of Northern Coahuila, Mexico. Zool. Ser. Field Mus. Nat. Hist. 29 (6): 97-115. ("Terrapene coahuila sp. nov.", pp. 101–103.)
  • Howeth, J.G.; McGaugh, S.E. & Hendrickson, D.A. 2008. Contrasting demographic and genetic estimates of dispersal in the endangered Coahuilan box turtle: a contemporary approach to conservation. Molecular Ecology 17: 4209–4221.
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