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Post Doctoral Research Associate

Zoo New England
Acton, United States Posted: June 01, 2024


Field data from many eastern Massachusetts populations suggest that wood turtles (Glyptemys insculpta) individuals of all life stages suffer from rates of predation that are unusually high, as compared to other long-lived turtle species. We believe that most of the predation inflicted upon both juvenile and adult wood turtles in Massachusetts is carried out by native mammals, especially river otters (Lontra canadensis), raccoons (Procyon lotor), and American mink (Neogale vison), but there are no actual data on the species composition of wood turtle predators in Massachusetts. Wood turtle predation rates appear to be higher during the active season (April through October) and that the incidence of predation rises during times of significant drought conditions.

  • The high levels of predation on wood turtles pose a significant wildlife conservation problem, as wood turtles are generally declining throughout their range, often precipitously.
  • The species has been proposed for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and is categorized as “Endangered” by the IUCN. Of relevance to Zoo New England’s efforts, high levels of observed predation on wood turtles may reverse years-long programmatic efforts to restore populations through habitat enhancement, nest protection, and headstarting.
  • This fully-funded, one-year position will be responsible for developing a reliable and generalizable measure of predation intensity upon wood turtle eggs, juveniles, and adults that would allow ZNE and other researchers to assess the relative risk of predation to wood turtles and compare that risk between sites, habitats within sites, seasons, and other variable environmental conditions.
  • The position will test and develop adaptive strategies to reduce mammalian predation upon wood turtles, including developing and testing the utility of 3D-printed facsimiles of wood turtles, as well as testing available aversive conditioning tools.
  • This position will work closely with Zoo New England Field Conservation staff, specifically the Associate Director of Field Conservation, Research Associate, and Field Biologist overseeing wood turtle conservation projects in planning and implementing the research and in analyzing the results.
Duties & Responsibilities
  • Determine which mammal species in eastern Massachusetts are the primary predators upon wood turtle eggs, juveniles, and adults, and develop a reliable and generalizable measure of predation intensity upon wood turtle eggs, juveniles, and adults.
  • Collect behavioral data on the ways in which potential predators approach and attack wood turtles and on the responses of wood turtles to such attacks.
  • Study the correlation between the relative boldness and vagility (mean distance moved over various time periods) of individual wood turtle juveniles and their likelihood of being killed or injured by mammalian predators, as well as the correlation between wood turtle stress hormone levels and site-specific predation intensity.
  • Use the above data to develop an initial list of possible mitigation strategies that might reduce the predation rate (annual probability of being killed by a predator) on wood turtles and, if possible, begin to explore the use of one or more such strategies.
  • Develop and test the utility of 3D-printed facsimiles of wood turtles, scent-matched to wood turtles with sent-retaining polymer tubes (Getxent Scent Tubes) and of wood turtle-scented quail eggs as substitutes for wood turtle eggs in assessing predation intensity.
  • Possibly develop models that allow the identification of would-be predators on turtle facsimiles using accelerometer signature patterns obtained by sensors placed within the turtle facsimiles.
  • Begin testing available aversive conditioning tools (e.g., a modification of existing Hardshell Labs technology) as a means of reducing turtle predation pressure.
  • Work to develop a genetic testing protocol to identify the likely predator of a turtle or a clutch of turtle eggs after recovery of dead turtles or predated turtle eggs.
  • Test the hypothesis that the rate of mammalian predation on turtle eggs is often lower when nests are situated in close proximity to human residences (as is often the case at field sites) vs. sites that are more remote from human activity.
  • Improve the use of less-invasive tissue sample methods for evaluating the individual stress level experienced by standardizing the use of claw tip samples vs. the more commonly used blood sampling procedure.
  • Test the feasibility and utility of creating simple habitat structures that can provide effective shelter for wood turtles from predators.
  • Take responsibility as lead author on writing up reports to donors and results for publication in peer-review journals.
  • Assist the Associate Director of Field Conservation in looking for further donor support and writing grant applications to continue or expand this work.
Working Conditions
  • Potential exposure and close contact with a variety of animals including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects, including direct handling of turtles.
  • Occasionally required to move heavy objects.
  • Work in uneven terrain with exposure to varying and challenging weather conditions (e.g., heat, rain, snow, ice), and to dust, and allergens.
  • Exposure to ticks, mosquitos, and other biting arthropods.
Minimum Job Requirements
  • PhD degree in conservation biology or a related biological discipline.
  • Experience in conducting and managing field research projects and in analyzing and reporting upon the results of those projects.
  • Excellent organizational skills.
  • Superb written and verbal communications skills, including experience with writing and editing non-technical publications and conducting public presentations and educational programs.
  • Commitment to teamwork, excellence, continuous improvement, creativity, and innovation.
  • Adherence to zoonotic disease prevention protocols as mandated by Zoo New England.
  • Must possess a valid drivers' license and be able to lawfully drive in Massachusetts.
Preferred Job Requirements
  • Record of successful grant applications and grant administration.
  • Possesses strong familiarity with the ecology and conservation of animals, plants, and ecosystems of New England.
  • Has authored or co-authored scientific peer-reviewed publications in the fields related to wildlife conservation and/or related education programs.
  • Experience in working on field conservation projects outside the United States.
  • A July start date is preferred, and priority will be given to early applicants.
Experience Required
  • PhD degree in conservation biology or a related biological discipline
Salary
  • $30.00/hour

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