Golf courses as habitat for aquatic turtles in urbanized landscapes

Kristin M. Winchell, James P. Gibbs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Golf courses host some of the only semi-natural aquatic habitats in urban areas. We assessed whether golf course wetlands could provide habitat refuges for freshwater turtles, which are threatened worldwide by wetland loss and degradation associated with urbanization. In 2009 and 2010 we examined populations of snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) and painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) and their habitats in 88 wetlands near Syracuse, New York, USA in golf courses, urban areas, and wildlife refuges. We tested two null hypotheses: (1) golf courses provide habitats comparable to nearby urban and protected areas, and (2) turtle populations in these contexts are comparable. Golf course wetlands were surrounded by low road density and were distinct from protected area wetlands only in that they were surrounded by less forest and grassland and had more homogenous aquatic plant communities. In terms of turtle populations, relative abundance was equivalent in protected area and golf course wetlands and female fraction was closer to parity in golf course wetlands. Painted turtles were of similar size across contexts and snapping turtles were smaller in urban and golf course contexts. Additionally, male turtles in golf courses were relatively heavier and both species had less severe indicators of poor health. Golf course wetlands apparently supported viable turtle populations similar to those observed in protected areas in the region. Nevertheless, turtle habitat on golf courses can be improved by increasing the area of wetlands, increasing their shape complexity, promoting vegetative diversity in and around wetlands, and increasing surrounding forest and grassland.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-70
Number of pages12
JournalLandscape and Urban Planning
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • Chelydra serpentina
  • Chrysemys picta
  • Management
  • Road mortality
  • Urbanization
  • Wetland

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Urban Studies
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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