Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Massachusetts
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Massachusetts Project

Evaluating the impact of management and stressors on at-risk species in Pine Barrens

July 2021 - September 2023


Participating Agencies

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Mandated by the Sikes Act of 1960, natural resource managers work to manage the habitats and wildlife that are found on military installations in the United States and Territories. At Camp Edwards Military Training Reservation (hereby abbreviated to Camp Edwards), Bourne, MA, such wildlife includes the state-protected eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) and the declining prairie warbler (Setophaga discolor), which both occupy pine barrens. Therefore, we conducted a two-part project related to both of the preceding species listed.

In 2020, natural resource managers at Camp Edwards noticed that eastern box turtles were being infected by myiasis, where parasitic flesh flies larviposit into the living tissue of a host. The hypothesized parasite was Dexosarcophaga cistudinis (Aldrich); but its impacts on the host’s body condition, movement, and habitat use are unknown. Therefore, our objectives were to genetically identify the parasite at Camp Edwards, and to compare the body condition, movement, and habitat characteristics of myiasis infected and noninfected eastern box turtles. We radio-tracked 48 turtles weekly from May to August 2022 at Camp Edwards. Upon capture, we recorded turtle infection status, mass, carapace length, shell surface temperature, GPS location, and capture location habitat characteristics. We identified D. cistudinis as the parasite, but we did not find an effect of myiasis on body condition, habitat use, or average daily distance moved. However, myiasis infected turtles had a significantly higher shell temperature (27.92 ± 5.28 °C) than noninfected turtles (26.77 ± 5.64 °C). Collectively, our results suggest that infected turtles may exhibit behavioral fever in response to myiasis, but there was no observed change in body condition or habitat use during a single field season.

Next, we investigate prairie warblers, and although prairie warblers are declining throughout their range, prairie warbler abundance has increased at Camp Edwards from 2013 – 2022, where point count estimates show a positive trend. During this same time period, there was increased forest thinning and prescribed fire activities at Camp Edwards. Therefore, to investigate habitat management effects on prairie warbler populations, we used a long-term monitoring dataset from 2013-2022. Using a dynamic occupancy model, we estimated colonization, extinction, and detection probabilities. Colonization probability significantly decreased for 25 years since disturbance (YSD). Latitude and longitude significantly affected colonization probability because of where management projects are concentrated. Extinction probability significantly decreased as YSD increased, presumably because fewer occupied sites in older forests could ‘become extinct.’ Observation year significantly affected detection probability. Our results inform how prairie warblers respond to long-term management. Continued habitat management could improve colonization rates and sustain prairie warbler populations.

Theses and Dissertations Publication Date
Gordon, A. B. 2023. Pine Barrens wildlife management: Exploring the impact of a stressor and active management on two taxa at Camp Edwards. University of Massachusetts, Amherst. MS-thesis. August 2023