Mortality events in eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina) threaten conservation efforts across the species range. These events are often under-diagnosed and, when observed, predictive health factors are unavailable prior to death. At Kickapoo State Park in central Illinois, USA, ranaviruses caused observed mortality events in amphibians and chelonians in 2014 and 2015. Following these outbreaks, eastern box turtles (n=36) were affixed with radio transmitters and temperature data loggers to obtain repeated location and temperature data from spring 2016–spring 2018. Bimonthly, samples of blood and oral and cloacal swabs were collected to investigate health parameters (hematology and cytokine transcription) and presence of multiple pathogens. Deaths of instrumented turtles occurred in 2016 (n=5), 2017 (n=15), and 2018 (n=2). The largest single die-off occurred in February 2017 (n=7). Seventeen turtles were necropsied and multiple pathologic processes were identified, most frequently decreased adipose stores (n=6). Two turtles had pathologic findings consistent with multisystemic inflammation. In addition, infectious pathogens were identified in turtles prior to death, but no single agent was associated with each mortality event. Ranavirus was not detected in any turtle. Hot spot analysis revealed spatial clustering at the center and edges of the study area for body temperature as well as for relative cytokine transcription of interleukin-1 beta, tumor necrosis factor alpha, and interleukin-10 associated with turtle death. Though no single causal factor could be identified, the information from this mortality event can direct future chelonian mortality investigations by providing baseline longitudinal data prior to death and in surviving turtles.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics