Even though Turtles have been around for over 230 million years, their populations are in trouble as I discussed in my first blog post! Should we be worried? Yes! Why should we be worried? For many many reasons!
Our Freshwater Turtles are Omnivores, this means that they eat both meat and vegetation. This is extremely important for both the ecosystem and humans! Turtles are scavengers because they spend most of their days trekking along the bottom of the water eating any dead fish it finds. This helps to keep the bacteria levels down the water and prevents making any other animals sick.
While Turtles may not be the fierce ferocious looking predators that we are commonly acquainted with, Turtles are both predators and prey and play a crucial role in the food chain. Let’s take a second and imagine that there was a Coyote in a wetland where there were Turtles, frogs, insects, fish, etc. Ideally, if the Coyote preyed on all the organisms there equally, the system would still be pretty balanced. Now, imagine that this Coyote only kept hunting the Turtles for whatever reason to the point where there were no more Turtles present in that pond. This would lead to a dramatic increase in insects and fish because there are no more Turtles present to hunt them, and the Coyote would now start hunting a different species. While this is not a real depiction of what happens in nature, it does happen and population changes can have a cascade effect on the ecosystem.
Furthermore, the abundance of Turtles found in an area is a good indicator of how an ecosystem is doing. Biologists generally monitor Turtle populations in a river or lake to see how balanced and healthy the overall ecosystem is doing. For instance, if the Turtle population in a river is extremely low, this would be a signal to biologists that there might be something bad happening in the area. This makes Turtles a key indicator species of an ecosystem.
Turtles are also key players in shaping the ecosystem by eating plants. When Turtles eat plants, they also consume the seeds and as these seeds travel through their digestive system, they become fertilized. Eventually, these seeds are passed through the Turtle's feces in the water and float until they reach the shoreline where they attach themselves to the bank. These seeds then begin to grow roots along the shoreline helping to stabilize the land and prevent erosion of the bank.
Isn’t it amazing how much Turtles can change our ecosystems?! Even though they might not be the fastest or the biggest animals around, there are many important reasons as to why they have survived for several decades.