SREL Reprint #2014





Terrestrial Buffer Zones and Wetland Conservation: A Case Study of Freshwater Turtles in a Carolina Bay


Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia, Drawer E, Aiken, SC 29802, U.S.A.


Because freshwater wetlands often support diverse and unique species assemblages, wetland loss is a primary concern in biological conservation. U. S. federal statutes protect many wetlands by deterring development within delineated borders that segregate wetland habitats from upland regions. In addition, some state and local jurisdictions mandate buffer zones that afford varying levels of protection to upland habitats adjacent to wetlands. We used geographic information system analysis to test the adequacy of federal and state wetland protection statutes by determining the degree to which protected acreage encompassed the habitats freshwater turtles needed to complete their life cycles. Two critical life-cycle stages, nesting and terrestrial hibernation, occurred exclusively beyond wetland boundaries delineated under federal guidelines. The most stringent state buffer zone insulated 44% of nest and hibernation sites. Our data indicate that the freshwater turtles examined in this study required a 275-m upland buffer zone to protect 100% of the nest and hibernation sites. Insulating 90% of the sites required a 73-m buffer zone. We suggest that the habitat needs of freshwater turtles demonstrate the dependence of wetland biodiversity on the preservation of adequate amounts of upland habitats adjacent to wetlands.

SREL Reprint#2014

Burke, V.J. and J.W. Gibbons. 1995. Terrestrial buffer zones and wetland conservation: A case study of freshwater turtles in a Carolina bay. Conservation Biology 9:1365-1369.

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