Diversity, distribution and bathymetric preferences of freshwater turtles in lower Sarju River, North India with special reference to Hardella thurjii
Singh, Arunima; Alam Khalid, Monowar; Singh, Shailendra
Journal of Experimental Zoology India
Sarju river flowing through the Himalayan foothills is recognized as a key turtle conservation habitat holding remarkable freshwater turtle diversity. This study is a strenuous attempt to document the diversity, distribution and relative abundance of freshwater chelonians in the lower Sarju River along with their bathymetric preferences in order to prioritize certain river sections as critical habitats of various threatened species including the elusive, Crowned River Turtle (Hardella thurjii). The entire length of the river (ca. 205 km) from source to confluence was trekked and canoed. A total of 289 turtles, representing nine species were encountered via 50 observation points. Six of the nine species recorded in this short unprotected river stretch are endangered in IUCN Redlist. Indian Roofed Turtle (Pangshura tecta) was the most abundant and widely distributed species observed at 28 sites followed by Indian Flapshell turtle (Lissemys punctata) and H. thurjii recorded at 16 and 8 sites, respectively. Nine important habitats were identified and ranked considering the species diversity, abundance, extent of habitat, and its potential to support conservation intervention. Interesting observations were made with the species such as P. tecta, H. thurjii, Indian Peacock Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia hurum) and Spotted pond turtle (Geoclemys hamiltonii), which utilized a variety of depth levels from bottom to top of the water column as compared to the other species. Though utilizing varied depth range, H. thurjii was largely observed when river formed deeper pools with heavily vegetated foraging areas. The information will help in the future to refine conservation strategies as well as the supplementation and recovery program of one of the most enigmatic species across North Indian subcontinent.
Conservation; crowned river turtle; depth preference; nesting; Terai Arc Landscape; turtle priority area

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