Jamie Casteel is a WEC junior. We spoke with her about her summer internship.
What are you doing this summer?
I’m doing river turtle research with Dr. Jerry Johnston from Santa Fe College.
Awesome! What does that entail?
A lot of data entry from turtle captures in the local springs. We take a lot of measurements, like the carapace (top) length, the plastron (underside) length, body mass, and some others.
I’m collecting dead turtles right now, too. We’re giving them to parasite researchers, who are looking for flatworms in the turtles. I’ve called a bunch of people asking for dead turtles, and they always ask, “Why do you want that?”
When I explain it to them, they’re always like, “Oh, you want us to pick it up?!”
I just tell them if they see one they can call me.
I’m also doing my own research project, a dietary study of loggerhead musk turtles and stinkpots. I’m analyzing what’s in their fecal matter, as well as doing isotope analysis to compare the two and see what’s the same and what’s different.
Where are you collecting your samples?
Anywhere in the Santa Fe basin, so some samples come from the Ichetucknee, some from Hornsby Springs, Blue Springs, and others.
How do you collect the samples?
When we catch the turtles, they each go in their own bucket, and while we’re waiting to process the other measurements, we hope they go to the bathroom in the bucket!
Then we collect the poop and look at it under a microscope.
What do you hope to learn from your internship?
Hopefully, we’ll learn what these turtles are eating!
The main reason I started doing this study is because Hornsby Springs specifically is dying. The main food source of these two turtles in the springs is snails. Snails are very sensitive to pH changes, so they have died off since the pH changed in the springs. Some snails are still there, but they’re not the same kind.
Why has the pH changed in the spring?
A couple years ago, when we had a bunch of bad hurricanes, the springs actually stopped flowing and the water stagnated for a while. That killed the plants, so there wasn’t as much oxygen in the water. Since then, the algae has taken over.
Do you think that you want to move towards studying river ecosystems, or turtles, in the future?
I’d like to! I’ve liked turtles most of my life! That would be something I’d enjoy doing.
This interview is by Rhett Barker, and has been lightly edited for clarity by Rhett Barker and Claire Williams.