Population and habitat ecology of the river cooter (Pseudemys concinna) in the New River Gorge National River, W.V.

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Virginia Tech


During 1984-85 I investigated population ecology and habitat relationships of river cooters (Pseudemys concinna) in the New River Gorge National River (NRGNR), West Virginia. Cooter colonies occurred in 3 pool habitats characterized by slow current velocities (x=0.22m/s), shallow water (0-2m), aquatic macrophyte beds, and basking sites.

The estimated adult population during summer 1985 was 64 individuals. Six, 25%, and 35% of the captures at the three study sites respectively, were juveniles. Most hatchling cooters apparently overwintered in the nest and emerged in April. Juvenile growth was rapid and linear until 6 years of age. Adult female cooters were larger (P=0.03) and heavier (P=0.0004) than males.

Adult cooters consumed mostly eelgrass (Vallisneria americanaElodea canadensis), although some crayfish remains were found in fecal samples. Juveniles consumed vegetation as well as invertebrates and fish.

Cooters did not move out of the pool habitats in which they were marked. Movements within pool habitats were influenced by basking site availability and location, which varied with river flow fluctuations. Two radio-marked cooters wintered in shallow backwater channels. Potential factors limiting the population are collecting and high artificial summer flows which scour weed beds. Addition of basking sites may increase habitat suitability for cooters.