The JBTR project is first and foremost a scientific research project; it began as my first graduate student (Jeremy Feinberg)’s thesis project. Nearly every thing we do with terrapins is aimed at answering questions and most will eventually be published. This is valuable goal, because scientific publications become part of the permanent record and hopefully answer important questions—they keep other people from needing to waste time answering questions that have already been answered, and they raise important new questions. The Citizen Science part of the project is equally important, as we’re training people what science is and how it’s done, which is really important to me.
The project has mostly focused on the population ecology of JB terrapins—what factors affect the size of the population, and how can these factors be manipulated to keep the population large. In the early years of the project we looked mostly at estimating the size of the terrapin population (Feinberg and Burke 2003) and where they nested (Ner and Burke 2008), including Sandy Hook. Some of my early graduate students did projects on hatching success in the lab and field (Giambanco 2003) and how nest site choice affects hatching success (Scholz 2007). We spent some time investigating the behavior of the obvious nest predators (Burke et al 2005, Rulison et al 2012) and how they affected our estimates of the size of the nesting population (Burke et al 2009). We then moved on to the post-nest stage, hatchlings, and found that many hatchlings spend their first winter on land (Muldoon and Burke 2012, Duncan 2014). Along the way we have also been doing a lot of work on adult terrapin diets (Erazmus 2012), especially with an eye to comparing the Ruler’s Bar population to the JFK population (Burke and Francoeur 2014).
A list of the topics we’re working on
1. We’ve continued to collect data every year on each female, her clutches, predation, and diet, and the long term data are yielding some very interesting trends that we will publish soon.
2. We’ve been collecting data on growth rates and the deposition of growth “annuli” which have interesting implications for the ability to estimate terrapin age
3. We’ve been seeing some terrapins with gruesome injuries, and we are tracking healing and survivorship
4. We’re starting a health monitoring program in cooperation with The Wildlife Conservation Society, and will be looking especially at heavy metals
5. We’re branching out a bit and looking at regional and state terrapins surveys, especially using indirect methods such as counting trematode cysts on mud snails (Chodkowski et al. 2015).
6. We’re working closely with biologists at JFK to learn why their terrapins are doing so well
7. Now that we have done some work on temperature sex determination (Burke and Calichio 2014) we are looking at freeze tolerance in our local hatchlings and then similarly down the coast and the rest of the terrapin range.