Blanding's Turtle Demography and Population Viability

Richard B. King, Callie K. Golba, Gary A. Glowacki, Andrew R. Kuhns

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In anticipation of U.S. federal status classification (warranted, warranted but precluded, not warranted), scheduled for 2023, we provide population viability analysis of the Blanding's turtle Emydoidea blandingii, a long-lived, late-maturing, semi-aquatic species of conservation concern throughout its range. We present demographic data from long-term study of a population in northeastern Illinois and use these data as the basis for viability and sensitivity analyses focused on parameter uncertainty and geographic parameter variation. We use population viability analysis to identify population sizes necessary to provide population resiliency to stochastic disturbance events and catastrophes, and demonstrate how alternative definitions of 'foreseeable future' might affect status decisions. Demographic parameters within our focal population resulted in optimistic population projections (probability of extinction = 0% over 100 y) but results were less optimistic when catastrophes or uncertainty in parameter estimates were incorporated (probability of extinction = 3% and 16%, respectively). Uncertainty in estimates of age-specific mortality had the biggest impact on population viability analysis outcomes but uncertainty in other parameters (age of first reproduction, environmental variation in age-specific mortality, percent of females reproducing, clutch size) also contributed. Blanding's turtle demography varies geographically and incorporating this variation resulted in both mortality- and fecundity-related parameters affecting population viability analysis outcomes. Possibly, compensatory variation among demographic parameters allows for persistence across a wide range of parameter values. We found that extinction risk decreased and retention of genetic diversity increased rapidly with increasing initial population size. In the absence of catastrophes, demographic conservation goals could be met with a smaller initial population size than could genetic conservation goals; ≥20-50 adults were necessary for extinction risk,5%, whereas ≥50-110 adults were necessary to retain.95% of existing genetic diversity over 100 y. These thresholds shifted upward when catastrophes were included; ≥50-200 adults were necessary for extinction risk,5% and ≥110 to.200 adults were necessary to retain.95% of existing genetic diversity over 100 y. Impediments to Blanding's turtle conservation include an incomplete understanding of geographic covariation among demographic parameters, the large amount of effort necessary to estimate and monitor abundance, and uncertainty regarding the impacts of increasingly frequent extreme weather events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)112-138
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Fish and Wildlife Management
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • Emydoidea blandingii
  • Environmental variance
  • Extinction risk
  • Population size
  • PVA
  • Sensitivity analysis
  • Survival

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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