Sound Communication and Social Behaviour in the Giant Amazon River Turtle (Podocnemis Expansa)

Sound Communication and Social Behaviour in the Giant Amazon River Turtle (Podocnemis Expansa)

Fri, 23/05/2014 - 10:00 to 11:00

About the Presenter

Dr. Richard C. Vogt is the Director of the Center for Amazon Turtle Conservation (Brazil), the curator of reptiles and amphibians at the zoology collection department and a Research Professor at the Brazilian Institute for Amazon Research (INPA) in the midst of the Amazon Rainforest in Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil since 2000. Dr. Vogt teaches an annual field course on techniques for studying freshwater turtles and advises under- and post-graduate, as well as doctoral students.

Dr Vogt earned his PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1978 studying the systematics and complex ecology of the False Map Turtle ( Graptemys pseudogeographica) in the Mississippi River Basin. Richard did his post-doctoral research at the Section of Amphibians and Reptiles Carnegie Museum of Natural History (1978-1980), where he remains a research associate. In 1981 Richard wrote “The Natural History of Reptiles and Amphibians”, a book that became a classic in this field. The most significant scientific finding was the publication with J. J. Bull in the journal Science in 1979 documenting that many species of turtles have a temperature-controlled sex determination.  From 1980-2000 Dr Vogt was a research scientist at the Estacion de Biologia Tropical “Los Tuxtlas”, part of Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, in the tropical rainforest along the gulf coast of Mexico. His research focused on the ecology of endemic neo-tropical freshwater turtles. Richard recently published, together with John Legler, the first comprehensive guide to the biology, ecology, evolution, and distribution of more than fifty freshwater and terrestrial turtle (“The Turtles of Mexico: Land and Freshwater Forms”, 2013). His latest studies focus on the migration of the giant Amazon River Turtles and their hatchlings using satellite and sonic transmitters, as well as underwater vocal communication in freshwater turtles.

The recent discovery of underwater vocal communication in turtles has opened a whole new aspect of turtle behaviour on which his RIEL seminar will focus.


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The social behaviour of turtles during the nesting season can be attributed to a series of functions such as reducing predation, increasing hatchling survivorship, and information exchange between nesting females. However, the mechanism(s) used to remain in a group during the different phases of nesting behaviour has yet to be explained. The objective of this study is to document the sounds produced by Giant South American River Turtle, Podocnemis expansa, during the nesting period, and identify how acoustic mechanisms might facilitate social behaviour and group aggregation during this period. From September 2009-October 2011, the sound repertoire of P. expansa was identified during the nesting period, which begins with the migration of the turtles from the flooded forests to the nesting beaches and terminates when the hatchlings emerge and the females migrate with the hatchlings to the flooded forests.  Sounds were recorded when the turtles were active in different behavioural patterns (1) migrating; (2) aggregating in front of the nesting beaches before basking; (3) nesting at night; (4) waiting in the water without nesting or after they have nested; and, (5) waiting for the arrival of the hatchlings. We observed six types of sound in the recordings of turtles made during the nesting period. These data indicate that this species is social, and that sound plays an important role in the synchronisation of the activities of groups during the nesting season.

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