The Northern Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin terrapin) in the NE United States: A regional conservation strategy

RCN Topic
Design and Implement Conservation Strategies for NE Species of Greatest Conservation Need

We propose the development of a regional, landscape level, multi-partner conservation strategy/plan that focuses on the conservation, management, and protection of the northern diamondback terrapin and its habitat in eight states of the Northeast/mid-Atlantic regions (Massachusetts to Virginia). The overarching goal of this proposal is a conservation strategy/plan that will help achieve long-term sustainability of the northern diamondback terrapin population in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions. Under RCN Topic 5 - Design and implement conservation strategies for the Northeast and mid-Atlantic Species of Greatest Conservation Need (NE SGCN) we will identify the species current and historical populations, habitat (known and unknown occupancy), threats, prioritize locations for regional and individual state management, data gaps, and review the regulatory status in each state. The conservation strategy will also include components from RCN Topic 7 - Identify and Assess Threats to NE SGCN as we will articulate threats regionally and for each individual state and also address major components of RCN Topics 3 (identifying data gaps). The final report will describe a strategic initiative for implementation of conservation actions across eight states within the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions with recommendations specific to each state and region-wide and the identification of the most important sites for this species. The results of the proposed conservation strategy/plan could be used to solicit additional funding for implementation for more regionally significant sites for terrapins in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions in the future. Completion of this project will require two years (January 2014-December 2015).

Northern diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin terrapin) (terrapin) populations have declined due to a number of factors since the early 1900’s. Historic commercial fisheries, loss of habitat, drowning in commercial and recreational crab pots, increased nest failure due to predation from raccoons and other subsidized predators, and road mortality have been the primary causations for population decline (Brennessel n.d.). Illegal harvest and trade in the Asian food markets, both domestic and abroad may also be a major threat.

The terrapin has been identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in the NE SWAPs. The terrapin is found in eight states of the Northeast /mid-Atlantic regions and is considered Threatened in MA, Endangered in RI, and Special Concern in CT. In DE’s SWAP, the species is considered a Tier I species, which is most in need of conservation action in order to sustain or restore their populations. In VA’s SWAP, the species is considered a Tier II Species of Greatest Conservation Need. In NY and MD, the species is identified in their respected SWAP, but with no priority ranking given. In NY and CT, the terrapin is identified as an S3 - Vulnerable species and in MD it’s an S4 – Apparently Secure species. NatureServe lists the Global Status of the terrapin as T4-Apparently Secure. In NJ, the terrapin is a commercial marine species and identified in the SWAP as species of greatest conservation need [SGCN].

The species has been identified by the NE Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (NEPARC) as a species of regional conservation concern in the NE Amphibian and Reptile Species of Regional Responsibility and Conservation Concern Report as it found in ≥ 75 % of states listed in the SWAP and > 50% of NDBT distribution is within the NE Region of North America (NEPARC 2010). Therres (1999) also suggested that the terrapin merits a federal listing assessment. There is no specific federal program/policy for the terrapin and state programs rarely coordinate regional efforts in the absence of a federal mandate (Hackney 2010).

A regional Conservation Strategy is needed at this time to identify steps that can be taken regionally and by state to reduce further decline of this species and to help achieve long-term sustainability of the terrapin population in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions. To pursue a regional Conservation Strategy, existing data must be compiled and evaluated by state and regionally from a number of partners and organizations. This proposal represents the first major effort of the DTWG to take a comprehensive view of the status of the terrapin in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions. In 2008, the (mid-Atlantic) DTWG meeting identified the development of a conservation plan as a priority action item. Despite its importance, no plan has been developed to date due to limited resources. The development of a Conservation Strategy will help guide and coordinate multiple-state laws and policies to protect the terrapin and its habitat and may reduce the need for a Federal listing assessment (as was also suggested by Hackney [2010]).

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