Saving the ecosystem, one turtle at a time

BY SHANNON WILEY

News Editor

Seeing what no one has ever seen is often the goal of explorers, anthropologists and astronauts; but, it is also the goal of Salisbury University Graduate Researcher Stephanie Lamb, who is currently researching spotted turtles in Maryland and Delaware.

By working with this globally endangered species, Lamb is on her way to becoming a conservation biologist. Through this, Lamb said, she feels she can make a positive impact on the lives of the animals as well as the ecosystem at large.

“Why wouldn’t someone want to be a part of positive change for the biodiversity of an ecosystem?” Lamb said. “I could potentially help the society, the lives of endangered or threatened animals and the environment they live in.”

Although spotted turtles are widely considered an “endangered” species, in Maryland they are currently only considered an “S2” species, or a species on the verge of endangerment or extinction.

But, Lamb has hypothesized that the populations of these turtles has dwindled on the Delmarva Peninsula because so little is known about those living in the area.

Concerned about the lack of knowledge as well as their late sexual maturity age, small offspring pools and the constant threat of habitat loss and predators (animal and human), Lamb felt compelled to look into the species to see if the populations had decreased.

In order to do this, she is planning on capturing spotted turtles from three areas across the peninsula environmentally likely to host the species. Once captured, she will take blood from their tails so she can assess their genetic structure and their relations to other populations, and then immediately release them back into the wild.

The genetic testing of the turtles is done in an effort figure out the actual separation between populations in the area.

“Habitat fragmentation and habitat loss can potentially lead to inbreeding and loss of genetic diversity,” Lamb said. “If inbreeding is found, then the genetic variation in a population typically decreases causing the individuals to be susceptible to diseases.”

From this, the species could become even more at risk of endangerment, or extinction.

If Lamb finds that the populations have decreased, as she suspects they have, or that there is much inbreeding, she hopes that her conclusions will prompt more researchers to look into the area to find ways to help the spotted turtles.

Although Lamb is now working to be a conservation biologist, this was not her original plan.

“I always thought I would want to be a veterinarian,” she said. “I used to watch TV shows on Animal Planet all the time and rescue stray kittens or abandoned baby rabbits. I even worked at an animal rescue for five years. There was and still is a profound feeling of peace and happiness when I help animals in need.”

Although she knew that she could help animals through veterinarian work, the idea of there being something else sparked her interest.

While studying as an undergraduate at SU, Lamb worked for the Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas and studied abroad in Costa Rica.

“I was mesmerized and enchanted by the biodiversity,” she said. “I photographed everything.”

These experiences, she said, made her realize that she wanted to do something more with her biology degree and after two years of post-graduate work at the Animal Rescue, she decided to come back.

“I want to be someone who can help and enforce this positive change,” she said. “I have a passion to help any animal in need, no matter what it is.”

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