Turtles and trail cameras: non-invasive monitoring using artificial platforms
Freshwater turtles often utilize basking habitats, allowing researchers to obtain population estimates and relative abundances from visual observations via spotting scopes in addition to other traditional trapping methods. Emerging technologies, such as camera trapping with wildlife trail cameras have been extensively utilized in other taxa, primarily mammals and in reptiles such as terrestrial tortoises, but to a lesser extent for monitoring freshwater turtles. Given their ability to bask, combining readily available non-invasive camera traps with standardized platforms may aid researchers study freshwater turtle populations and basking behavior. We assessed this method by deploying a novel artificial basking platform design in tandem with camera traps for weekly monitoring of turtles at a small semi-urban pond in central North Carolina for six months (April to September 2018). Basking behavior was documented with 1098 observations, with the number of turtles utilizing platforms varying according to season, and overall peak use during late spring and early fall. We also noted shifts in artificial basking structure use by species, with Painted turtles, Chrysemys picta, replacing Yellow-bellied slider turtles, Trachemys scripta, as the dominant basking species over time. Conservation managers should consider using both platforms and trail cameras, for monitoring of freshwater basking turtle populations and as a metric for turtle presence or for detailed studies of behavior.