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NIU professor receives state grant to study endangered Blanding's turtle

Blanding's turtle face
NIU Newsroom / Callie Klatt Golba, NIU
subadult Blanding's turtle

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is providing a grant to an NIU professor to develop conservation plan for a native turtle.

The Blanding’s turtle received endangered species status in Illinois in 2009. This year, The Illinois Department of Natural Resources provided a $260,000 dollar grant for research headed by Northern Illinois University professor Richard King to ensure that the turtle recovers, despite loss of habitat -- and its breeding pattern.

“So those little hatchling turtles that are starting out life, maybe just an inch and a half long," he said, "they have to survive for 12-13 years before they even start reproducing for the first time. And so that's a challenge”

Another unusual feature about Blandings’ turtles is that while they're mostly aquatic, living in in marshes and wetlands, the females can travel more than kilometer inland to lay their eggs. The females’ long voyage puts them at high risk of encountering inhospitable habitat like farmland, roads or rails.

“And so that puts them at a little more risk," said King, "than turtles that nest, lay their eggs closer to their home wetlands.”

King has studied the Blanding’s turtle for a decade. He said that there’s real benefit to the conservation efforts that extends beyond just the endangered turtle. The Blanding’s turtle is an “umbrella species,” which means that its conservation has the added benefit of preserving habitat not just for the turtle but for a vast array of plants and wildlife that utilize that same habitat. In the case of Blanding’s turtles that includes both wetland and grasslands, both of which have declined in Illinois.

One of the objectives of the grant, King said, is to pull together the available information about the distribution and abundance of Blanding’s turtles in Illinois, and then develop some sort of recovery criteria.

“What would it take for us to at the state level [to]consider Blanding’s turtles at less risk,” said King, “so that they might be shifted from being endangered to threatened or even considered secure?”