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Dr. Donald Padgett, Professor of Biology

Turtles and Botany

As an aquatic botanist and turtle enthusiast, I have been lucky to combine these two pursuits in my research.

For a number of years, my students and I have been studying the role aquatic turtles have in transporting the seeds of aquatic plants between waterbodies. Animals like turtles are known to be vehicles for seed dispersal, yet this has never been investigated in the Northeast region.

We have been able to document that eastern painted turtles, in both pond and riverway ecosystems, are capable of eating, carrying and then passing a large and diverse set of intact seeds. Seeds have numbered more than a thousand from one individual animal.

We were the first to report experimentally that the fragrant water lily seeds that passed through the turtles were not impacted by the digestive processes and were capable of germinating. Hence, these turtles, which are usually abundant, can be effective disseminators of aquatic plants and afford them a convenient way to travel over dry land to nearby ponds. Our findings demonstrate turtles can influence the plant biodiversity of waterbodies and, more broadly, how nature is interconnected.

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