Copyright is held by the authors. Articles in JNAH are made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license. 19 DISTRIBUTION AND STATUS OF THE SUWANNEE COOTER, PSEUDEMYS CONCINNA SUWANNIENSIS, IN THE ALAFIA RIVER (HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FLORIDA, USA) INTRODUCTION The Suwannee Cooter, Pseudemys concinna suwan- niensis, is the largest emydid turtle in North America and occurs in river systems draining into the northeastern Gulf of Mexico from the Ochlockonee River in the east- ern Florida panhandle, southward to Phillippi Creek in the southern peninsula (Figure 1; Heinrich et al. 2015, Heinrich and Walsh 2019). This principally riverine tur- tle exhibits prominent sexual dimorphism (adult females significantly larger than adult males) and is primarily herbivorous after the juvenile stage (Jackson and Walk- er 1997, Jackson, 2006). Threats to this species include take for human consumption (illegal in Florida since 2009), predation of turtles and nests, loss or degrada- tion of nesting and basking habitat, water quality deg- ABSTRACT: The Suwannee Cooter, Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis, is a geographically limited turtle of conservation concern that inhabits Florida rivers draining into the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. Threats impacting its conservation status include take for human consumption, predation of turtles and nests, loss or degradation of nesting and basking habitat, water quality degradation, and boat strikes. Our surveys revealed that the Alafia River, which drains into Hillsborough Bay (northeastern Tampa Bay), is likely the stronghold of the southern distribution of P. c. suwanniensis. Multiple survey methods during 2015-2020 revealed that a substantial population of Suwannee Cooters inhabits much of this blackwater river system, including the main channel and at least one of its two primary tributaries. GIS analysis showed that more than half of the shoreline within the occupied extent is currently protected by conservation lands, although additional protection of private lands and improved habitat management protocols are needed to assure the population’s conservation. Key Words: Alafia River, anthropogenic threats, Pseudemys concinna, Suwannee Cooter, turtle conservation GEORGE L. HEINRICH1,2, TIMOTHY J. WALSH2,3, DALE R. JACKSON4, AND J. SEAN DOODY5 JNAH ISSN 2333-0694 Volume 2021, Number 1 March 2021 journals.ku.edu/jnah The Journal of North American Herpetology 1Heinrich Ecological Services, 1213 Alhambra Way S., St. Petersburg, Florida 33705-4620, USA, email@example.com (corresponding author) 2Florida Turtle Conservation Trust, 1213 Alhambra Way S., St. Petersburg, Florida 33705-4620, USA 3Bruce Museum, 1 Museum Drive, Greenwich, Connecticut 06830, USA, firstname.lastname@example.org 4Florida Natural Areas Inventory, Florida State University, 1018 Thomasville Road, Suite 200-C, Tallahassee, Florida 32303, USA, email@example.com 5University of South Florida, Department of Integrated Biology, St. Petersburg Campus, 140 7th Avenue S., St. Petersburg, Florida 33701, USA, firstname.lastname@example.org radation, and boat strikes (Jackson 2006; Heinrich et al. 2010, 2012). Although delisted as a Species of Special Concern by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in 2017, the agency has developed a spe- cies action plan as required for imperiled taxa (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 2013). The subspecies has been placed within various taxonomies by investigators (Seidel 1981, 1994; Ward 1984; Jackson 1995), with most authorities currently recognizing su- wanniensis as a subspecies of P. concinna (Jackson 1995, 2002, 2006; Seidel and Dreslik 1996; Meylan 2006). We follow the taxonomy adopted by Meylan (2006) and the Turtle Taxonomy Working Group (2017). A Pseudemys taxonomy workshop organized by H. Bradley Shaffer and Peter A. Scott (University of California, Los Angeles) in Journal of North American Herpetology 2021(1): 19-28 20 2019 addressed the need for a thorough revision of the genus. Distribution and status of P. c. suwanniensis within its southern range has long been uncertain and hence of conservation concern. Publications as late as 2015 indi- cated a distributional gap of ~79 km occurring between the Weeki Wachee River and Alafia River, long believed to be the southernmost limit of distribution (Heinrich et al. 2015). However, subsequent rapid assessment field surveys documented its occurrence within this hiatus in the Pithlachascotee and Anclote rivers (Walsh and Hein- rich 2015, 2016). Apparent absence from the moderately large Hillsborough River (Marchand 1942, Jackson 2006), the only remaining river in this gap, calls for a thorough survey. Additional fieldwork south of the Alafia River doc- umented P. c. suwanniensis in the Little Manatee River, Manatee River, and Phillippi Creek (Heinrich and Walsh 2016, 2019). Rivers and streams to the south of Phillippi Creek need to be surveyed to determine the subspecies’ true distributional terminus. Although recent fieldwork noted above documented a range extension southward, those populations appear less dense. A range map in Krysko et al. (2019) shows a record of P. concinna south of the southernmost locality documented by Heinrich and Walsh (2019). The former record is based upon four specimens collected from Woodmere, Florida by Archie F. Carr on 18 November 1934 (UF 589-590, 594-595). Based on a different taxonomy in use at that time (e.g., Carr 1935, Pope 1939), we suspect these specimens may not represent what is currently recognized as P. concin- na. Incomplete museum records and the Covid-19 pan- demic of 2020 precluded us from accessing the speci- mens for identification. Further investigation is needed to clarify this problematic record. The Alafia River is a moderately-sized blackwater sys- tem with water levels and flow heavily influenced by tidal fluctuations and seasonal rainfall (Figures 2-3). The riv- er system flows through a mixture of natural and urban areas within a large phosphate mining region (Cardinale 1998). The Alafia River basin and natural communities have been negatively impacted by anthropogenic activ- ities, including mining, agriculture, and extensive resi- dential and recreational development (Cardinale 1998, Heinrich et al. 2015). This river system supports three sympatric species in the genus Pseudemys: Suwannee Cooter, Peninsula Cooter (P. floridana peninsularis), and Florida Red-bellied Cooter (P. nelsoni). The earliest spec- imens of P. c. suwanniensis from the Alafia River were collected by Walter Auffenberg, Larry H. Ogren, and John W. Crenshaw, Jr. on 22 November 1953 (USNM 137634- 137635; Heinrich et al. 2015). Subsequent infrequent observations and specimens collected are summarized by Heinrich et al. (2015). The objectives of the study reported here were to determine the distribution and status of P. c. suwanniensis in the Alafia River. This ef- fort builds upon our previous work in unstudied and un- derstudied areas, and herein we present results of the Fig. 1. Map of Florida rivers in which Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis occur, as well as rivers from which they are absent or unknown (Heinrich et al. 2015, Heinrich and Walsh 2016, 2019). Fig. 2. Alafia River (Hillsborough County, Florida). Photograph by George L. Heinrich. Fig. 3. Senior author surveying for turtles in the Alafia River (Hillsborough County, Florida). Note debris in overhead trees indicating higher water level in the past. Photograph by Timothy J. Walsh. Journal of North American Herpetology 2021(1): 19-28 21 conduct survey work on sunny days to maximize basking behavior, and restricted fieldwork to weekdays to limit disturbance by recreational boaters. We recorded infor- mation for each Pseudemys observed similar to Enge and Wallace (2008): location using a hand-held Garmin GPS unit, estimated age class (juvenile, subadult, adult), sex (based on body size, foreclaw length, and tail length), and activity (basking on an embedded object [log or stick in the river not attached to the bank], basking on a sweeper [log or stick extending from the bank], basking on a floating log, basking on land, and floating or swim- ming). Basking Survey from Water We searched for all three species of Pseudemys in the Alafia River, including navigable sections of the North and South prongs, from a motorboat or kayaks. Lack of vis- ible basking sites downriver from Williams Park at US 41 to where it empties into Hillsborough Bay precluded inclusion of this section. Two survey trips (10 March and 18 September 2015) were conducted by motorboat (two observers) between Bell Shoals Road and Williams Park, a span of ~16 km. The area from the convergence of the North and South prongs in AFCP downriver to Bell Shoals Road (~22 km) was surveyed twice from solo kayaks (two observers) on 1, 2 June and 16, 21 October 2015. This section contains shallow limestone outcroppings that limit access by motorboat. We used solo kayaks (two observers) to survey for the three Pseudemys species in the only navigable section of the South Prong, a span of ~12 km (~2 km upstream and ~10 km downstream of Thatcher Road) on 26 Oc- tober and 25, 29 November 2016, and 10 April 2017. A single survey trip on the North Prong was conducted from an accessible point in appropriate habitat at East Keysville Road (CR 676) to the convergence of the North and South prongs in AFCP (~7 km) on 26 October 2020. The water-based survey employed binoculars and a digital camera as described for the basking survey from land. We recorded information for each Pseudemys ob- served as described above. When possible, Suwannee Cooters were hand-captured, given unique identification marks (marginals filed), sexed, measured (max. cara- pace length [CL], max. plastron length [PL], max. cara- pace width [CW], max. shell height [SH]) to the nearest mm), weighed to the nearest gram, and photographed (carapace and plastron). Local Community Survey We surveyed the local community for information re- garding the presence of Suwannee Cooters. A flier (Fig- ure 5) requesting observations was created, and 5,000 copies were distributed from 21 February-18 September 2015 to residences in communities along the Alafia River, including the North and South prongs. The flier included a phone number and email address for contacting us. In addition, an iNaturalist (www.inaturalist.org) project was created and a link provided on the flier so that obser- vations could be submitted online. Information received from 41 responders led us to visit seven sites (two ob- servers), four of which were checked a second time. Survey on Conservation Lands We surveyed Alderman’s Ford Nature Preserve (AFNP; 6 June, 1 August, 27 October, and 10 November 2015) and Lithia Springs Conservation Park (LSCP; 27 July first focused field investigation (2015-2020) at this site. Further, we compare the results and efficacy of multiple survey methods that we employed to identify locations of this species within the river system. Our methods and findings should be valuable to researchers planning fur- ther ecological studies and the latter will provide infor- mation allowing agencies to consider this species in hab- itat management and conservation efforts. STUDY AREA AND METHODS Study Area The Alafia River has a watershed of ~1,082 km2 (Stok- er et al. 1996), mostly in eastern Hillsborough County, and is fed by two major tributaries originating in Polk County (Figure 4). The North Prong Alafia River flows westward where it merges with the South Prong Ala- fia River at Alderman’s Ford Conservation Park (AFCP) in eastern Hillsborough County. From the conservation park, the Alafia River flows ~37 km westward and emp- ties into Hillsborough Bay (northeastern Tampa Bay) at Gibsonton (Parsons 2008). Lithia Spring Major and Buck- horn Main Spring (second magnitude springs) and their associated short spring runs feed into the normally tan- nic river (Scott et al. 2004). Tidal fluctuations influence the lower ~18 km of the river which is heavily developed with residential properties and shoreline hardening (Car- dinale 1998). Methods Basking Survey from Land Google Earth and traditional maps (e.g., DeLorme Flor- ida Atlas & Gazetteer 2003) were utilized to identify 33 potential viewing points to monitor for all three species of Pseudemys basking along the shoreline of the Alafia Riv- er, including the North and South prongs. We conducted two reconnaissance trips (8, 14 January 2015) to assess habitat suitability for P. c. suwanniensis and to evalu- ate safe and legal access to sites. Based on these con- siderations, we selected 20 locations, all in Hillsborough County. Site selection excluded areas located upstream in Polk County as they appeared to lack appropriate hab- itat to support Suwannee Cooters. We used binoculars (8x42), a spotting scope (80 mm, 20-60x), and a digital camera (55-250 mm lens) to survey for basking turtles at the 20 monitored sites from 20 January-10 December 2015. Individual sites were visited by two observers (on all but one date) from 2-8 times throughout the year and no longer monitored once there was a confirmed sighting of P. c. suwanniensis. Fieldwork (all methods) was gen- erally conducted from 900-1700 hours. We attempted to Fig. 4. Satellite map indicating Alafia River system (Hillsborough and Polk counties, Florida). Journal of North American Herpetology 2021(1): 19-28 22 2015) for skeletal remains and depredated nests using 1-5 surveyors. Collected material was deposited at the Florida Museum of Natural History. At LSCP, we used snorkeling (two swimmers) to search for turtles in two short spring runs associated with Lithia Spring Major and Lithia Spring Minor on 2 June and 21 October 2015. This was the only area where water clarity and legal access allowed us to use this technique. We also surveyed (2 observers) the same spring runs and associated shore- line from land on 17 February, 21 April, 13 May, and 27 June 2015. Land Status We used 2015 aerial imagery in ArcMap and 2020 imagery in Google Earth in an attempt to quantify shoreline hardening and proximity to development (residential, business, and paved roads) within 60 m of all Suwannee Cooter observations. ArcMap was also used to measure length of shoreline in private vs. designated conservation lands, as documented by the Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI 2020), within the entire river system stretch documented to support this turtle. Because some conservation lands bordered only one side of the river (and/or prongs), we made separate determinations for each side (principally north of main river/east of South Prong, and south of main river/west of South Prong). RESULTS Utilizing multiple survey methods, we observed P. c. suwanniensis at 65 locations spanning an uninterrupted stretch of ~47 linear km within the Alafia River system (Figures 6-8). While most observations were made on the main river (59), a small number of sightings were also recorded from the North Prong (1) and South Prong (5). Basking Survey from Land This method produced seven GPS points (1 on North Prong, 6 on main river) representing a total of nine Suwannee Cooters (1 juvenile, 8 adults; Table 1, Figure 8); these included one male, four females, and four of undetermined sex. Eight individuals were observed basking on embedded or sweeper logs, and a single turtle was seen swimming in the water. Basking Survey from Water The basking survey from water documented 50 GPS points (4 on South Prong, 46 on main river) representing a minimum number of 59 P. c. suwanniensis sightings (Table 1, Figure 8). Surveying the main river twice (convergence of the North and South prongs to Williams Park at US 41) allowed us to collect additional GPS points, the primary goal of this project. Therefore, counts may Fig. 5. “Wanted: Information on Suwannee Cooter Sightings” flier. Fig. 6. Basking adult female Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis in the Alafia River (Hillsborough County, Florida). Photograph by George L. Heinrich. Fig. 7. Basking juvenile Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis in the Alafia River (Hillsborough County, Florida). Photograph by Timothy J. Walsh. Journal of North American Herpetology 2021(1): 19-28 23 represent some individuals that were observed during both trips. Determining species, age class, and sex were difficult using this method due to viewing distance (up to 75 m), vessel movement, and wariness of turtles causing them to abruptly abandon basking sites. Hence, we were only able to confidently classify 11 juveniles, five subadults, and 32 adults (6 males, 1 female). Forty-nine turtles were recorded basking on embedded, sweeper, and floating logs, in addition to one basking on shore. Three turtles were seen floating or swimming. Two juvenile Suwannee Cooters were captured and processed during the course of fieldwork on the main river. At AFNP, we captured a yearling that was basking on a sweeper log (CL 68 mm, PL 62 mm, CW 62 mm, SH 34 mm, mass 53 g). We also captured a yearling swimming in the main river at LSCP (CL 53 mm, PL 46 mm, CW 49 mm, SH 26 mm, mass 25 g). Local Community Survey The 5,000 fliers that we distributed generated 41 responses (via emails, phone calls, and iNaturalist) reporting possible Suwannee Cooter observations made by local community residents. Three responses included photographs of nesting females (2) and a single hatchling. The seven sites that were monitored yielded observations of five adult P. c. suwanniensis representing four GPS points on the main river (Table 1, Figure 8). These turtles represented two males, one female, and two of undetermined sex, all of which were basking on embedded or sweeper logs. Survey on Conservation Lands The survey on conservation lands along the main river yielded two GPS points (Table 1, Figure 8). At LSCP, three Suwannee Cooters were observed in the main river at the mouth of the run associated with Lithia Spring Major. An adult male was observed basking on a log, and two turtles (1 adult and 1 of undetermined age class, and both of undetermined sex) were seen swimming next to that log. No turtles were observed during the two times that we searched (from shore) the spring runs associated with Lithia Spring Major and Lithia Spring Minor. At AFNP, we found a single shell (UF 181849) of a depredated juvenile Suwannee Cooter on the bank of the main river at a powerline right-of-way. Due to its condition, we were limited in regard to collecting morphometric data (PL 48 mm, SH 28 mm). We also Journal of North American Herpetology 2021(1): 19-28 24 observed what appeared to be an abandoned nesting attempt (uncovered three-hole nest containing no eggs) by either a P. c. suwanniensis or P. f. peninsularis. Miscellaneous Observations Two GPS points were produced tangentially to other fieldwork and could not be assigned to one of the four survey methods (Table 1, Figure 8). Two adult Suwannee Cooters (1 male, 1 of undetermined sex) were observed basking on the trunk of a live tree in a flooded cow pasture along the South Prong at Jameson Road. An adult male P. c. suwanniensis was seen basking on an embedded log in the main river at McMullen Loop Road, 1.3 km upriver from US 301. Land Status Because of canopy overhang along the river, only three instances of shoreline hardening were readily observable (using ArcMap and 2020 imagery in Google Earth) adjacent to the 65 points at which Suwannee Cooters were observed. Based on observations from watercraft during the field survey, we know the actual number to have been higher. The presence of residential and business development, as well as paved roads within 60 m of Suwannee Cooter sightings, therefore served as a proxy. Thirty-eight sites (58%) were within 60 m of hardened development, vs. 27 (42%) that were not. Conservation lands line much of the main river and South Prong within the 47.6 km stretch identified as Suwannee Cooter habitat (Table 2, Figure 8). The continuous shoreline comprising the northern bank of the main river, eastern bank of the South Prong, and lowermost North Prong includes 22.3 km of private lands (46.8%) and 25.3 km of lands in conservation (53.2%). Protection is even greater on the main river’s southern bank and adjoining western bank of the South Prong, with 30.6 km (65.2%) in conservation and 16.3 km (34.8%) still private. Other Herpetofaunal Species Documented In addition to the three Pseudemys species, we also documented the following herpetofauna during the course of this study: Southern Toad (Anaxyrus terrestris), Green Treefrog (Hyla cinerea), Cuban Treefrog (Osteopilus septentrionalis; non-native), American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), Florida Chicken Turtle (Deirochelys reticularia chrysea), False Map Turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica; non-native), Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans; non-native), Striped Mud Turtle (Kinosternon baurii), Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), Florida Softshell Turtle (Apalone ferox), Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei; non-native), Eastern Six- lined Racerunner (Aspidoscelis s. sexlineata), Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus), Southern Black Fig. 8. Distribution of Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis sightings (N= 65) in the Alafia River (Hillsborough County, Florida) based on this study. At this scale, some nearby observations are obscured by others. Journal of North American Herpetology 2021(1): 19-28 25 Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus), and Florida Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata pictiventris). Six T. s. elegans were observed both in the river and on land, including 3 roadkilled hatchlings. Population levels of this invasive, non-native subspecies should be monitored (Ernst and Lovich 2009). DISCUSSION Our study is novel in examining the distribution of P. c. suwanniensis throughout an entire river catchment; this is important because the Alafia River is likely the subspecies’ stronghold in the southern portion of its range, based on our studies of this and other regional drainages (Heinrich et al. 2015; Walsh and Heinrich 2015, 2016; Heinrich and Walsh 2016, 2019). In this paper, we report what we observed to be the upstream and downstream limits of Suwannee Cooters and suggest potential factors limiting their distribution. We document a reduction in spring use based on historical records and anecdotally assess the level of current threats to the subspecies in the catchment. We also inform management by calculating that more than half of the river stretches occupied by P. c. suwanniensis are bordered by conservation lands. The distribution of conservation fliers to the public made a minor contribution to the distributional data set, but provided valuable, rare information on nesting sites and likely raised awareness of Suwannee Cooters in the river system. Suwannee Cooters were not observed beyond ~0.22 km upstream in the North Prong and ~22 km upstream in the South Prong, likely due to unsuitable habitat further upstream. The narrow prongs have abundant potential basking sites but less open canopy, and currents are slower than typically favored by P. c. suwanniensis (Jackson 2006). The most downstream observation in the main river was at McMullen Loop Road (1.3 km upriver from US 301). Beyond this point the tidally- influenced river widens and basking structures become sparse. Although turtles may occur in the lower section approaching the river mouth, lack of visible basking sites downriver of Williams Park at US 41 precluded its inclusion in our survey. This subspecies has been documented to occur, at least occasionally, in brackish coastal waters (Carr 1940, 1952; Carr and Goin 1955; Jackson 2006). We did not have legal access to Buckhorn Main Spring and Buckhorn Creek (the mouth of which is located at a high-use recreational area on the river), but did document Suwannee Cooters in the main river near the creek mouth. Our study, combined with other research and sur- veys, strongly suggests that the Alafia River system is the stronghold for this obligatory riverine species in the southern portion of the range. The species occurs in a few rivers to the south of the Alafia River (Heinrich and Walsh 2016, 2019), although population densities appear to be much lower. Moreover, the Alafia River differs from most of the rivers occupied by northern populations of Suwannee Cooters. Most studies of P. c. suwanniensis have been conducted with populations inhabiting the rel- atively clear waters of spring-fed river systems within the subspecies’ northern range (Giovanetto 1992, Mey- lan et al. 1992, Jackson and Walker 1997, Huestis and Meylan 2004, Chapin and Meylan 2011, Johnston et al. 2016, Munscher 2017, Johnston et al. 2020). Water clar- ity in these habitats allows for the use of snorkeling and hand-capture; this technique (mask only) was used in the earliest fieldwork on Suwannee cooters by Marchand (1942) in Rainbow Run (Marion County, Florida). A period of reduced tannin load and greater water clarity in the normally tannic Santa Fe River (Alachua and Columbia counties, Florida) made use of snorkeling and hand-cap- ture possible during a mark-recapture study (Kornilev et al. 2010). Jackson and Walker (1997) employed only hand-captures on land during their study of nesting tur- tles at Wakulla Springs State Park (Wakulla County, Flor- ida). Other studies have included basking surveys and trapping, essential techniques in blackwater habitats that preclude the use of snorkeling (Jackson 1997, 2002; Bal- lou et al. 2016). Basking surveys in rivers and streams in the southern portion of the range are needed to confirm that the Alafia River is the southern stronghold of the species. The survey conducted on conservation lands produced only 2 GPS points, observations of basking/swimming Journal of North American Herpetology 2021(1): 19-28 26 turtles at LSCP and a single shell of a depredated juveni- le at AFNP. Records of Suwannee Cooters were reported from Lithia Spring Major in 1953 and 1964-1968 (Hein- rich et al. 2015), but no sightings were made during our binocular survey from land and while snorkeling. This spring has been a popular public recreational site since 1957, and the substrate of this ~4,332 m2 human-mo- dified swimming area is now bare white sand with some algae. Surveying for intact or depredated nests at LSCP and AFNP resulted in a single observation of a three-hole nest containing no eggs at the latter. However, because both P. c. suwanniensis and P. f. peninsularis construct three-hole nests, we were unable to confirm identifica- tion of the species (Carr 1952; Jackson and Walker 1997, Jackson 2006). Several factors are likely to threaten this population. Situation of the Alafia River within a major phosphate mining region makes water quality degradation from industrial accidents a foremost concern (Cardinale 1998; Jackson 2005, 2006; Heinrich et al. 2015). Other threats include reduction of natural aquatic vegetation (Auffenberg 1978; Jackson 1992, 2005, 2006), loss or removal of deadwood (basking structures; Lindeman 1999, 2013; Bodie 2001), disturbance from recreational boat traffic (Moore and Seigel 2006), boat strikes (Heinrich et al. 2012), and degradation of nesting habitat by feral hogs (Sus scrofa; Lewis et al. 1994, Ditchkoff and West 2007). Although collection of turtles for human consumption has been a major threat elsewhere in the past (Jackson 2005, 2006; Heinrich et al. 2010), we found no evidence of such during the course of the current study. Monitoring of existing and potential threats to both aquatic and nesting habitats of P. c. suwanniensis is critical to this turtle’s future conservation and management (Jackson 2006, Heinrich et al. 2015). Positive management actions beneficial to riverine turtle populations include maintaining water quality that will support diverse forage species, protecting basking sites and preventing their removal, and restricting shoreline hardening that can prevent access to nesting habitat. On a positive note, more than half of the land (53.2- 65.2%) on both sides of riverine habitat that we identified as occupied by the Suwannee Cooter is in some form of conservation management. Turtles are not the primary focus of conservation on any unit, however, so education of agencies and staff managing these lands is vital to assure that management activities are beneficial and not detrimental to their turtle faunas. Additionally, any opportunities to bring further undeveloped private lands along this river system into conservation should be pursued. Clearly, benefits to protecting this riverine ecosystem would extend far beyond turtles. The local community survey featuring distribution of 5,000 fliers in residential areas adjacent to the Alafia Riv- er produced only 4 GPS points, all of which occurred in areas where other locations of Suwannee Cooters were identified during the basking survey from water. Of par- ticular importance, however, was that the fliers yielded submissions of photographs that documented the only two confirmed nesting locations known to us. Although this method was both labor-intensive and costly, it like- ly enhanced public awareness of Suwannee Cooters and the ecological importance of the river. In general, we suggest that this method would best be reserved for sur- veys where finding turtles is expected to be more difficult and much less likely. There were limitations to our study. Suwannee Cooters, like many emydids, are ideal candidates for basking surveys focused on presence and distribution (Lindeman 1999, Enge and Wallace 2008). However, weather conditions (e.g., air temperature, rain, and cloud cover) can negatively affect basking activity and make it difficult to identify species, quantify numbers, and interpret results. That two other similar-looking species of Pseudemys occur sympatrically in Gulf Coast river systems within the Suwannee Cooter’s range presents additional challenges. All of these factors can contribute to varied results when repeating surveys of the same area. This paper reports on the first field study of P. c. suwanniensis in a blackwater river system within the southern portion of the subspecies’ range. Further research on Suwannee Cooters in the Alafia River is needed to better understand what appears to be the largest population of this subspecies within its southern range. Our study provides a platform for future research and for conservation and management of a critical population of this turtle. In this light, we initiated a mark- recapture project in 2019. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Peter A. Meylan (Eckerd College), Jeanne Murphy (Friends of Pinellas Master Naturalists), and Melanie Riedinger-Whitmore and Thomas J. Whitmore (Universi- ty of South Florida) assisted with volunteer recruitment. We thank Trent Adamson, Janet Anschuetz, Andrew Ar- nold, Jennifer Buchanan, Jim Caldwell, Macy Campbell, Mary Anne Campbell, Jo Campo, Bruce Donald Colin, Stephanie Coutant, Laurel Dodson, Logan Dodson, Terry Dunham, Andrew Farren, R. David Goodwin, Rosemary Jackson, Robert Krause, Marta Leach, Patty Moore, Kim Munshower, Riley Munshower, Tom Paczkowski, Peter Ro- bison, Carol Vanryn, Timmy Vanryn, Jessica A. Waltman, Randy Wright, and Ray Wunderlich for assistance with fieldwork. Ann Paul and Mark Rachal (Audubon Florida) provided boat transportation, and Bryan Hughes (Alder- man’s Ford Conservation Park) and Wayne Rowe (Lithia Springs Conservation Park) kindly assisted with logisti- cal concerns. Peter V. Lindeman (Edinboro University of Pennsylvania) assisted with identification of a Graptemys species. Amy Knight (Florida Natural Areas Inventory) graciously assisted with GIS analysis of data and evalu- ation of conservation lands, Nathan Pasco (Florida Nat- ural Areas Inventory) produced the map showing loca- tions of turtle sightings and conservation lands, David J. DeWitt (Southwest Florida Water Management District) provided a base map used to produce our map of Flor- ida rivers, and Kate Dzikiewicz (Bruce Museum) assist- ed with graphic design. This project was supported by a grant from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and fund- ing from the Florida Turtle Conservation Trust. Research was conducted under Florida Fish and Wildlife Conser- vation Commission Scientific Collecting Permit Number LSSC-15-00019, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Permit Number 06011524, and authorization from Hillsborough County Conservation & Environmental Lands Management. 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