Rare western painted turtle eggs threatened by invasive plants in B.C.

Environmentalists in Creston, B.C. are holding a public weed pull Friday to stop invasive plants from growing through the eggs of the province's rare western painted turtle.

The western painted turtle is British Columbia's only native freshwater turtle species

Environmental groups in central B.C. are organizing a weed pull this Friday to help restore the habitat of the western painted turtle. (Central Kootenay Invasive Plant Committee)

The eggs of the western painted turtle, B.C.'s only native freshwater turtle species, are at risk of being infiltrated by invasive plants and environmentalists in Creston are taking action. 

"Invasive plants are quick to colonize the loose gravel substrates near wetlands where females lay their eggs," said wildlife biologist Leigh Anne Isaac.

"In doing so, these non-native plants choke out potential nesting sites and their roots have been shown to grow through the developing eggs."

Isaac will be taking part in a public weed pull on Friday to prevent invasive plants from growing on the rare B.C. turtle's nesting grounds.

"[It's] a long-lived species that requires different types of habitats to bask, forage, lay eggs, and overwinter," said Isaac.

"A hatchling is about the size of a loonie...and it stays in the nest all winter long and emerges next spring.

"It is very much confined to its nest, so anything that does happen while it's in its nest, they are quite vulnerable, including roots growing through the nest."

'Intriguing and iconic'

There are two western painted turtle populations in British Columbia.

The Pacific coast population is listed as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and the Rocky Mountain population is listed on B.C's. blue list for species at risk because of habitat loss.

"There has been evidence where the actual roots of invasive plants can grow right through a turtle nest and this has been shown particularly for knapweed," said wildlife biologist Leigh Anne Isaac. (Central Kootenay Invasive Plant Committee)

While Isaac says it is difficult to quantify how much invasive plants have threatened the western painted turtle, she thinks any decline in the population could have a significant impact on the aquatic ecosystems they reside in.

"They can consume aquatic insects, fish , plant material. From a biological perspective, they are really important to wetland ecosytems in addition to being intriguing and iconic on their own," said Isaac.

Isaac is optimistic Friday's weed pull will help restore the turtle's habitat to its original state, but says it will take a concerted and consistent effort ensure the turtle's long-term survival.

"[Invasive plant] seeds can last a long time in soil. These weed pulls will have to happen regularly and frequently, so we can knock back this impending front of invasive plants."

To hear the full interview with Leigh Anne Isaac, listen to the audio labelled Western painted turtle threatened.


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