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Factors contributing to the range expansion and population increase of a native generalist species

In: Amphibia-Reptilia
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Eleanor G. Tate Environmental Science Program, Trinity College, Hartford, CT 06106, USA

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Amber L. Pitt Environmental Science Program, Trinity College, Hartford, CT 06106, USA
Department of Biology, Trinity College, Hartford, CT 06106, USA

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https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6748-4164
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Myles D. Little Environmental Science Program, Trinity College, Hartford, CT 06106, USA

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Joseph J. Tavano Environmental Science Program, Trinity College, Hartford, CT 06106, USA

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https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1843-7780
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Max A. Nickerson Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA

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Abstract

Ecological communities are becoming more typified by generalist species in conjunction with anthropogenic activities. Using a long-term dataset (1968-2019), we documented the expansion of a native generalist species, the red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans), into a river community, and studied the subsequent population changes that occurred in conjunction with short- and long-term changes within the ecosystem. Trachemys scripta elegans was able to expand into a new geographic area following a harvesting-induced population decline of a native competitor, the northern map turtle (Graptemys geographica). The population of T. s. elegans remained small for approximately 2.5 decades, then significantly increased in conjunction with habitat degradation in the form of increased silt/sediment deposits and nuisance aquatic vegetation growth. Our results demonstrate how a generalist species can expand and establish a population in an area impacted by multiple anthropogenic stressors. This research reveals how ecological communities become characterized by more generalist species following anthropogenically-induced competitive release caused by harvesting of native competitors, habitat degradation, and extreme flooding associated with land cover and climate change.

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