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Natural Resources Science


The Southeast Asian box turtle (Cuora amboinensis) is numerically the most important turtle exported from Indonesia. Listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, this turtle is heavily harvested and exported for food and traditional medicine in China and for the pet trade primarily in the United States, Europe, and Japan. Despite its significance in global markets, relatively little is known about the species’ ecology or importance to ecosystems. We conducted our research in a national park in Sulawesi, Indonesia, and our objectives were to quantify trophic breadth, capacity for seed dispersal between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and whether ingestion of seeds by C. amboinensis enhances germination. We obtained diet samples from 200 individual turtles and found that the species is omnivorous, exhibiting an ontogenetic shift from more carnivorous to more omnivorous. Both subadults and adults scavenged on other vertebrates. In a seed passage experiment, turtles passed seeds for 2‒9 days after ingestion. Radio‐tracked turtles moved, on average, about 35 m per day, indicating that seeds from ingested fruits, given seed passage durations, could be dispersed 70‒313 m from the parent tree and potentially between wetland and upland ecosystems. In a seed germination experiment, we found that ingestion of seeds by turtles enhanced germination, as compared with control seeds, for four of six plant species tested. Of these, two are common in the national park, making up a significant proportion of plant biomass in lowland swamp forest and around ephemeral pools in savanna, and are highly valued outside of the park for their lumber for construction of houses, furniture, and boats. Protection of C. amboinensis populations may be important for maintaining trophic linkages that benefit biodiversity, communities, and local economies.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.