All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Thane Wibbels

Advisory Committee Members

Ken Marion

Chris Murdock

Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name by School

Master of Science (MS) College of Arts and Sciences


The diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin), an emydid turtle that plays an important ecological role in salt marsh ecosystems, has declined over the last century and is listed as a Priority One Species (highest conservation concern) in Alabama. Traditional surveying techniques have been employed to monitor diamondback terrapins on the coast of Alabama throughout the last decade; yet, these techniques can be time-consuming, labor-intensive, and disruptive to terrapins and their habitats. This study evaluated the potential for UAS technology and eDNA methodologies to effectively monitor diamondback terrapin presence, abundance, and/or distribution in salt marsh habitats. UAS-based surveys were conducted in 2017 and 2020 and the observational results indicated that UASs can provide an efficient and cost-effective means of evaluating both the spatial and seasonal abundance of terrapins in the tidal channels of salt marsh habitats. To develop an environmental DNA (eDNA) assay for diamondback terrapins, primer-pairs were designed to target a sequence of terrapin mtDNA. Then, a protocol was developed for the efficient collection of water samples and isolation of eDNA. The assay was first tested in the laboratory and was then tested with water samples collected from salt marsh habitats in Alabama. Additionally, a control eDNA assay for striped mullet (Mugil cephalus), an abundant species in Alabama salt marshes, was developed. Striped mullet eDNA was present in most environmental samples, but detection ability appears to vary seasonally. The diamondback terrapin eDNA assay can accurately detect terrapin eDNA from the water of captive terrapins in the laboratory, but the present methodology does not appear sufficient for the detection of the levels of terrapin eDNA in the habitats examined. With improvements to primer specificity and assay sensitivity, this eDNA methodology may be able to detect diamondback terrapins in their natural habitat. The results presented in this thesis suggest that UAS and eDNA technologies both present promising means for the detection of diamondback terrapins in salt marsh ecosystems. These studies provide a foundation for the potential use of these technologies in diamondback terrapin conservation or research, which could significantly complement and enhance ongoing diamondback terrapin research throughout its range.



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