Welcome to the first
issue of a new informal newsletter communicating the results of
recent research on freshwater turtles of Australasia and some of
the impacts that research is having on policy and management.
The newsletter is informal, in that it is not
associated with any particular society, but rather an avenue for
communicating discoveries and ideas among a loose collection of
individuals interested in research on this fascinating element of
Editorial oversight will be initially provided by Ricky-J
Spencer (UWS) and Arthur Georges (UC).
We are looking for short snippets of news, research highlights, new
publications, conference reports, successes in science and
technology communication with the community, indeed anything at all
that you think would be good to share with colleagues.
This first issue is just a selection of stories, and has a strong
bias -- help fix this bias by sending in your news.
There is a good chance we have not got everyone who might be
interested in receiving this newsletter. If you think we have
missed someone, forward this issue to them and suggest they ask to
be put on the mailing list by sending an email to the above
Northern Snake-necked Turtle -- Chelodina oblonga or Chelodina rugosa?
Nomenclature can be a pernickity affair, with the finer
details best left to those well versed in the International Code of
Zoological Nomenclature (the Code), on the understanding that they
are doing their best to achieve agreement on the scientific names we
apply to species and to achieve some measure of nomenclatural
stability. A recent decision of the International Commision of
Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) has left many researchers somewhat
perplexed and other interested parties in government and the community
annoyed and confused.
is unfortunately a specimen of what we currently call C. rugosa. The Commission, in a
decision late last year, did not support an application by Scott
Thomson to use its plenary powers give precedence to the prevailing
for the northern snake-necked turtle.
1856, Gray recognised Chelodina
colliei from south-western Australia as a different
species from Chelodina
oblonga Gray, 1841 from 'Western Australia'. In those
days, Western Australia included what is now the Northern Territory.
Later, in 1873, Gray specifically mentioned specimens of C. oblonga from
the Port Essington region of what we now regard as the Northern Territory.
It is quite clear that Gray recognised the species from south western
Australia (his Chelodina
colliei) and the species from northern Australia (his Chelodina oblonga)
In 1889, Boulenger synonymized C.
colliei with C.
oblonga, a view followed for several decades until 1967
when John Goode and Andrew Burbidge reinstated the long-necked turtle
of south-western Australia as distinct from the northern snake-necked
species. Really unfortunate was their decision to apply the name C. oblonga, not C. colliei, to
the south-western Australian species.
This was a serious error. The holotype of C. oblonga, used by Gray, came from
northern Australia and is quite obviously, on even cursorial
examination, a specimen of what we currently call C. rugosa. It
was an unfortunate error because C.
oblonga has precedence over C. rugosa, having been applied
first to the northern snake-necked turtle.
Under the Code, it is possible to use a junior synonym instead of a
senior synonym on the basis of longstanding useage, but the
conditions for doing so are quite stringent, and did not apply in
this case. So, in 2006, Scott Thomson applied to the ICZN to
use its plenary powers to give precedence to rugosa over oblonga.
This would have the southwestern snake-neck as Chelodina colliei
and the prevaling use of Chelodina
rugosa for the northern snake-neck sustained, which
seemed eminently sensible. The name Chelodina oblonga would be set
Unfortunately, the ICZN did not agree, despite 40 years of continuous
use of the name Chelodina
rugosa for the northern snake-necked turtle.
We are now faced with the prospect of either continuing to use Chelodina rugosa
in the hope that some other acceptable proposition can be put to the
ICZN to retain the prevailing useage, or accepting that Chelodina oblonga
should now be used for the northern snake-necked turtle.
The issue is complicated by the as yet unpublished work of Erika
Alacs which identified two quite divergent clades within C. rugosa. One,
in the Northern Territory and far north-eastern Western Australia,
almost certainly includes the C.
oblonga holotype. The other clade comprises the
populations of Queensland and New Guinea (formerly C. siebenrocki)
and includes the holotype of C.
rugosa. These two clades may come to be described as new
If they are -- this is by no means certain -- and we follow the ICZN
ruling, we are faced with the Queensland populations of the northern
snake-necked turtle originally named Chelodina oblonga by Gray, then C. rugosa by Goode
and Burbidge, then C.
oblonga by the ICZN ruling, then back to C. rugosa if the
Queensland clade warrants recognition as a separate species.
In the words of Oliver Hardy, "Here's another nice mess you've
gotten me in to". But who is Ollie talking to? Is it John Goode
and Andrew Burbidge for their mistake, or the ICZN for what many
would regard as a silly decision, or Scott Thomson for not letting
sleeping dogs lie, or is Ollie wrong, and things will be all that
more tidy once the dust settles?
Yates of the Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern
Territory, has described a new species of fossil Chelodina from
the late Miocene Alcoota deposits of the Northern Territory.
The new species is based on shell fragments and can be diagnosed by a
ventrally reflexed anterior margin of the plastron, a ventrally
narrowed cervical scute and strongly dorsally curved margins of the
carapace extending from approximately peripheral two to peripheral
nine or ten as well as by a unique combination of characters.
Within Chelodina the new species is part of the nominal subgenus Chelodina and
within that subgenus it is most closely related to the Chelodina novaeguineae
clade. This is not only the oldest record but also the most southerly
occurrence of this group.
The article is available as open access, online, from the Peerj journal.
Citation: Yates AM. (2013) A new species of long-necked turtle
(Pleurodira: Chelidae: Chelodina)
from the late Miocene Alcoota Local Fauna, Northern Territory,
Australia. PeerJ 1:e170 http://dx.doi.org/10.7717/peerj.170
Todd has just published a paper derived from her PhD thesis
on the phylogeny and phylogeography of turtles in the genus Elseya.
The genus Elseya has a
long vicariant history in Australia,
closely tied to disconnection of fluvial habitat through landform
evolution, sea-level rise and ongoing aridification.
paints a more complete picture of Australian freshwater biogeography,
including evidence for periodic connectivity with New Guinea,
important regional biogeographical barriers, and the location of
potential freshwater refugia.
patterns described for terrestrial groups implies a collective
response of the Australian fauna to aridification.
information, refer to the full article:
Todd, E.V., Blair, D., Georges, A., Lukoschek, V. and
Jerry, D.R. 2013. A biogeographical history and timeline
for the evolution of Australian snapping turtles (Elseya:
Chelidae) in Australia and New Guinea Journal of Biogeography, 2013
recent to appear in the compilation of species accounts by the
IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group is an
article on Chelodina
expansa prepared by Deborah Bower and Kate Hodges.
Australia's largest snake-necked turtle, Chelodina expansa (Family
Chelidae), occurs throughout the inland rivers and billabongs of
eastern and southeastern Australia. The species is cryptic in habit,
yet occupies waters heavily exploited and regulated by humans.
Traditionally considered a riverine species, recent studies
demonstrate that it is more frequently represented in permanent lakes
and billabongs connected to main river channels. Typical of many
freshwater turtles, C.
expansa displays delayed maturity and high adult
survivorship. It is carnivorous and feeds primarily on fast-moving
prey such as crustaceans and fish, but will also consume carrion. The
reproductive biology of C.
expansa sets it apart from most other turtles; in
response to low temperatures, embryos enter a diapause, which enable
them to survive over winter in nests, resulting in a year-long
has lower population densities than sympatric turtle species, which
may increase its vulnerability to threats. Persistence of C. expansa
relies on habitat quality and longitudinal connectivity of freshwater
systems in southeastern Australia.
Bower, D. and Hodges, K. 2014. Chelodina expansa
Gray 1857 -- Broad-Shelled Turtle, Giant Snake-Necked Turtle.
Chelonian Research Monographs 5:
a second article, Alastair
Freeman and John
Cann provide an up to date account of the biology of Myuchelys latisternum.
The species is a small to medium-sized short-necked turtle endemic to
northern and eastern Australia. It inhabits deep to shallow pools and
lagoons on permanently flowing waterways, particularly in the upper
reaches and side channels of larger rivers. Myuchelys latisternum
is chiefly carnivorous, feeding on a variety of aquatic
invertebrates, but will also consume fruit, and other vegetation.
Nests are laid in fine sand or alluvial substrate on banks close to
the water, with clutch size ranging from 9 to 20 eggs and oviposition
recorded from September to March. The species is widespread and no
significant current conservation threats have been identified.
island of New Guinea lies in one of the most tectonically active
regions in the world and has long provided outstanding opportunity
for studies of biogeography. Several chelid turtles, of clear
Gondwanal origin, occur in New Guinea; all species except one, the
endemic Elseya novaeguineae, are restricted to the lowlands
south of the Central Ranges. Elseya novaeguineaeis found
throughout New Guinea.
Georges, Xiuwen Zhang and Peter Unmack
from University of Canberra and Brendan Reid, Mihn Le and Bill McCord
from the US used mitochondrial gene variation among populations
of E. novaeguineae throughout its range to test hypotheses of
recent extensive dispersal versus more ancient persistence in New
Guinea. The distribution of this endemic species is best explained by
persistent occupation (or early invasion and dispersal) and
subsequent isolation initiated by the dramatic landform changes that
were part of the Miocene history of the island of New Guinea, rather
than as a response to the contemporary landscape of an exceptionally
influence on genetic structure appears to have been isolation arising
from a combination of: (1) the early uplift of the Central Ranges and
establishment of a north-south drainage divide; (2) development of
the Langguru Fold Belt; (3) the opening of Cenderawasih Bay; and (4)
the deep waters of the Aru Trough and Cenderawasih Bay that come
close to the current coastline to maintain isolation of the Birds
Head through periods of sea level minima (−135 m).
The dates of
divergence of turtle populations north and south of the ranges
predate the telescopic uplift of the central ranges associated with
oblique subduction of the Australian Plate beneath the Pacific Plate.
Their isolation was probably associated with earlier uplift and
drainage isolation driven by the accretion of island terranes to the
northern boundary of the Australian craton that occurred earlier than
the oblique subduction. The opening of Cenderawasih Bay is too recent
(6 Mya) to have initiated the isolation of the Birds Head populations
from those of the remainder of New Guinea, although its deep waters
will have served to sustain the isolation through successive sea
genetic structure of the species complex reflects events and
processes that occurred during Miocene, whereas structure within each
clade across the New Guinea landscape relates to Pliocene and
information, refer to the original article:
Zhang, X., Unmack, P., Reid, B.N., Le, M. and McCord, W.P.
2014. Contemporary genetic structure of an endemic
freshwater turtle reflects Miocene orogenesis of New Guinea.
Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 111:192-208.
Hodges has just published a paper arising from her thesis on
the phylogeny and phylogeography of the Broad-shelled Turtle, Chelodina expansa.
She examined range-wide mitochondrial phylogeographical
structure in this riverine freshwater turtle
to see if this species exhibits deep genetic divergence
between coastal and inland hydrological provinces, as
seen in co-distributed freshwater taxa.
Twenty-one haplotypes were recovered across two mitochondrial
haplogroups separated by approximately 4% nucleotide
divergence. The haplogroups have discrete geographical
boundaries but only partially support a hypothesis of deep
divergence between coastal and inland bioregions.
The first haplogroup comprises populations from the
Basin and from coastal catchments south of the Mary
River in south-east Queensland. The second
haplogroup comprises populations from coastal catch- ments
north of the Mary River. Cryptic phylogeographical
barriers separating adjacent coastal populations are
congruent with those demonstrated for other freshwater taxa and
may result from the combined influences of
the Conondale Range and alluvial deposits at the mouth of
the Mary River.
The findings show that freshwater taxa commonly display
genetic differentiation within a biogeographical region where no
boundaries have been recognized, highlighting the
need to uncover cryptic microbiogeographical regions to aid
conservation of freshwater biota.
.For further information, refer to the original article.
Hodges, K., Donnellan, S and Georges, A. 2014.
Phylogeography of the Australian freshwater turtle Chelodina expansa
reveals complex relationships among inland and coastal bioregions.
Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, early view.
a study conducted by Ricky-J
Spencer (UWA), Arthur
Georges (UC), Mick
Shaffer and others, the Bellinger River Emydura was
delisted this month under the EPBC Act.
In cases where the taxonomic or conservation status of a species is
uncertain, the precautionary principle may be invoked in listing
suspected but as yet undescribed taxa as vulnerable or endangered.
Such was the case with the Bellinger River Emydura, which
was declared endangered in the Action Plan for Australian
Reptiles and vulnerable in the schedules of state and federal
Using mitochondrial sequence variation, it could be shown that the
Bellinger River turtle is an unremarkable population of a common and
widespread species, Emydura
macquarii. There was also evidence that the turtle may
have been recently introduced to, or may be a recent invader of, the
It is thought that it may come to compete with Myuchelys georgesi,
an endemic found only in the Bellinger River. The delisting is
sensible, in fact, it would be more sensible to list Myuchelys georgesi.
The broader principle here is to couple fundamental research with
on-ground action early in an adaptive management context,
particularly where taxonomic status of the target species is
uncertain and listing is relying on the precautionary principle.
Short-term cost savings of failing to do so may come to be greatly
exceeded by longer-term opportunity loss where conservation dollars
Eisemberg and the UC Piku Team operating out
of Papua New Guinea have launched a children's book in Papua New
Guinea that holds a strong message about the threat of invasive
animals on the biodiversity. The books forms part of a series,
written by Carla, that promotes conservation and sustainability in
While not on turtles directly, the book is part of a series produced
by the Pig-nosed turtle project in Papua New Guinea.
The book Monty
and the Lake Kutubu Invasion tells the story of Chris the Carp who
finds his way to the Lake to the great concern of the many native
fish species that live in Lake Kutubu.
"This book will help immensely by bringing the
issue to the minds of the next generation, at an age when they are
receptive to new ideas". IAE Project Officer, Eric Manasi,
added "Protecting Lake Kutubu is particularly important as the
lake contains 12 unique fish species found nowhere else in the
10,000 copies of
the book have been published for distribution within local schools in
the region, with its official launch occurring at the Kutubu, Kundu
and Digaso Festival in Daga attended by IAE staff Arthur Georges,
Jasmyn Lynch, Eric Manasi and Yolarnie Amepou and Carla, who is now
the community has been overwhelmingly positive, especially from
teachers who will now use the book as learning material.
white explorers brought with them exotic plants and animals such as
Elephant Grass which is now such a problem", said Hilbert Gaibu
a teacher from Tanuga Primary. "Mustard tree also. Locals do not
know how to stop these species spreading along the Kikori-Moro
Jack, of Era Kiti Primary School, added -- "The book will really
help the children understand about conservation. I enjoyed the story,
the puzzles and games. They will open up a child's mind. The book
reminds all of us of the responsibility to conserve rare and
threatened species, and will be good for environmental studies."
environmental education and associated research is funded by the PNG
A copy of the
book can be obtained from Carla in hardcopy, or electronically from
the IAE website.
chondrocranium is a cartilaginous structure that forms around and
protects the brain and sensory organs of the head. Through ontogeny,
this skeletal structure may become more elaborate, remodeled and
reabsorbed or ossified. Daniel
Paluh and Chris
Sheil describe for the first time the mature
chondrocranium of the pleurodiran turtle, Emydura subglobosa. They cleared
and double-stained two hatchling specimens. The orbitotemporal region
of E. subglobosa
is dramatically different from that of other turtles (e.g. Apalone spinifera,
Pelodiscus sinensis, Chelydra serpentina, Macrochelys temminckii,
Trachemys scripta, Chrysemys picta, and Eretmochelys imbricata)
in that a prominent taenia marginalis spans the space between the
planum supraseptale and otic capsules, and the pila antotica (which
becomes modified and ossified through ontogeny to form the processus
clinoideus) is greatly reduced and essentially absent in hatchling
specimens. The morphology seen in E.
subglobosa is similar to that of Caretta caretta,
particularly as it relates to the taenia marginalis. Variation in the
orbitotemporal region is briefly discussed in the context of the
taenia marginalis, taenia medialis, pila metoptica, and pila antotica
For further information, go to the original article.
Paluh, D.J. and Sheil, C. A. 2013. Anatomy of the fully
formed chondrocranium of Emydura
subglobosa (Chelidae): A pleurodiran turtle. Journal of
in pig-nosed turtle hatchlings out of Indonesian West Papua continues
as evidenced by the most recent seizure of an illegal shipment.
Indonesian officials said last month that they rescued more than
8,000 baby pig-nosed turtles hidden in suitcases and thought to be
destined for China and Singapore.
Zaenal Abidi, a quarantine official, the turtles were discovered in
four suitcases at the airport serving the capital Jakarta after
arriving from the remote eastern Papua region.
Abidi said that
pig-nosed turtles smuggled through Jakarta are usually sent to
Singapore or China, where they are sold as exotic pets and sometimes
end up in food markets.
All the turtles
would be returned to their natural habitat in Papua.
Pig-nosed turtles are not the only target.
The island of New Guinea has the highest diversity of
chelid turtles in Australasia. Large numbers are harvested from the
Indonesian province of Papua to supply the international pet trade. Jessica Lyons, Daniel
Natusch and Chris
Shepherd of UNSW and Traffic recorded 264 chelid
turtles from six species in the trade between December 2010 and March
2011 while gathering information about wildlife trade in the
Indonesian province of Papua. Most were juveniles, although a substantial
number of large adults were also harvested. Illegal and
unregulated trade coupled with a lack of basic ecological data for
these species is thought to have a severe impact on wild populations.
Jessica and her team present recommendations for law enforcement and
conservation of these species.
For further information, refer to the original article:
Lyons, J.A., Natusch, D.J.D. and Shepherd, C.R. 2013. The harvest of
freshwater turtles (Chelidae) from Papua, Indonesia, for the
international pet trade. Oryx 47:298-302.
turtle records have been added, by Peter Unmack, Matt Young and Kate
Hodges, after a recent CRN MDB Futures field trip to the
Murray-Darling Basin. Also, we have some new records from the Cape
Bower has moved to Moramanga in Madagascar where she is
working for an NGO called Madagasikara Voakajy on critically
endangered reptiles and amphibians including Pronks Day Gecko and
Golden Mantellas. Sounds like a plum job.