Biodiversity

Species Profile and Threats Database


For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
 
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed as Vulnerable
Listing and Conservation Advices Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Rheodytes leukops (Fitzroy Tortoise) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2008ge) [Conservation Advice].
 
Recovery Plan Decision Recovery Plan not required, included on the Not Commenced List (1/11/2009).
 
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
Declaration under s178, s181, and s183 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of threatened species, List of threatened ecological communities and List of threatening processes (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000) [Legislative Instrument].
 
State Government
    Documents and Websites
QLD:Fitzroy River turtle (Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP), 2011f) [Database].
State Listing Status
QLD: Listed as Vulnerable (Nature Conservation Act 1992 (Queensland): May 2014 list)
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Vulnerable (Global Status: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2013.1 list)
Scientific name Rheodytes leukops [1761]
Family Chelidae:Testudines:Reptilia:Chordata:Animalia
Species author Legler and Cann, 1980
Infraspecies author  
Reference Legler, J.M. & Cann, J. 1980. A new genus and species of chelid turtle from Queensland, Australia. Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History Contributions in Science 324: 1-181 [2, figs 1-7]
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images
http://www.chelonia.org/RleukopsBM.jpg
http://wetlandinfo.derm.qld.gov.au/wetlands/factsfigures/FloraAndFauna/Species/rheodytes-leukops.html

Scientific Name: Rheodytes leukops

Common Name: Fitzroy River Turtle

Other Names: Fitzroy Tortoise, Fitzroy Turtle

The Fitzroy River Turtle is a medium to dark brown turtle growing to 25 cm SL (shell length) with scattered darker spots and blotches on the upper shell surface. It has a pale yellow or cream belly and dull olive-grey exposed fleshy parts. The shell is broadly oval and the neck is covered with large, pointed conical tubercles (Cogger 2000). The back edge of the shell on hatchlings is serrated (Cogger 2000; Latta & Latta 2005; Wilson & Swan 2003). The Fitzroy River Turtle has distinctive eyes with black pupils surrounded by a narrow white inner ring (adults) or a metallic silvery-blue iris (hatchlings) (Cogger 2000; Limpus 2007). The Fitzroy River Turtle has relatively long forelimbs with five long claws and a large cloacal bursae which has a respiratory function (Cogger 2000; Wilson & Swan 2003).

The Fitzroy River Turtle is only found in the drainage system of the Fitzroy River, Queensland. It is estimated that this species occurs in a total area of less than 10 000 km² (Cogger et al. 1993; McDonald et al.1991). Known sites include Boolburra, Gainsford, Glenroy Crossing, Theodore, Baralba, the Mackenzie River, the Connors River, Duaringa, Marlborough Creek, and Gogango (J. Cann cited in Cogger et al. 1993; Covacevich et al. 1996a; Tucker et al. 2001; Venz 2002).

The Fitzroy River Turtle is found in rivers with large deep pools with rocky, gravelly or sandy substrates, connected by shallow riffles. Preferred areas have high water clarity, and are often associated with Ribbonweed (Vallisneria sp.) beds (Cogger et al. 1993). Common riparian vegetation associated with the Fitzroy River Turtle includes Blue Gums (Eucalyptus tereticornis), River Oaks (Casuarina cunninghamiana), Weeping Bottlebrushes (Callistemon viminalis) and Paperbarks (Melaleuca linariifolia) (Tucker et al. 2001).

Turtles often associate with logs in deeper water, and may sit on the downstream side or under rocks in fast flowing riffles (Cann 1998; Tucker et al. 2001). In order to be able to breathe in these fast flowing habitats, the Fitzroy River Turtle has adapted to be able to breathe bimodally, using either its lungs or its cloaca. Cloacal ventilation is the process where water is drawn into and expelled from the cloaca at a rate of 15–60 times per minute (Limpus 2007). Due to this mode of cloacal ventilation, the Fitzroy River Turtle is commonly referred to as the "bum-breathing" or "bottom-breathing" turtle (Latta & Latta 2005; Limpus 2007).

It is thought that the Fitzroy River Turtle has an affinity for well-oxygenated riffle zones, moving into deeper pools as the riffle zones cease to flow (Tucker et al. 2001). However, recent studies have captured several turtles from deep pools (Gordos et al. 2003; 2003a; 2004).

Nesting occurs between September and October (Legler 1985). All located nests have been on river sandbanks 1–4 m above water level (Cann 1998; Cogger et al. 1993). Nests have been found up to 15 m from water on flat sandbanks (Cann 1998).

Annual reproductive potential of females is 46–59 eggs laid in three to five clutches. Eggs incubated at 30 °C hatch in 47 days (Cann 1998). Eggs incubated in natural nests have been recorded to take up to 90 days to hatch (Legler 1985). Eggs are deposited in nesting chambers 170 mm deep, containing between 12–20 eggs (Latta & Latta 2005). The eggs are approximately 29 mm long and 21 mm wide (Limpus 2007).

This species can take between 15–20 years to reach sexual maturity (Limpus 2007).

The Fitzroy River Turtle forages on the river bottom (Cann 1998) and is known to consume a variety of foods, including Ribbonweed (Vallisneria sp.), freshwater sponge, aquatic insect larvae, algae, small snails, terrestrial insects and terrestrial plant material such as leaves and bark (Cann 1998; Tucker et al. 2001).

The average home range size (range span) for nine Fitzroy River Turtles near Glenroy Crossing was 417–679 m. Home ranges for both sexes overlapped riffle zones, with a mean distance of 258–359 m to a riffle zone. The maximum distance to the nearest riffle zone averaged 494–613 m. Turtles were sedentary, often remaining in the same location for days. One female, believed to have exhibited exceptional behaviour, migrated 6.8 km beyond an initial core area to take up residence at a second area (Tucker et al. 2001).

In Marlborough Creek activity is greatest during daylight hours, specifically the twilight hours, although in other locations it has been observed that the turtles are more active at night (Gordos et al. 2003a). Fitzroy River Turtles are highly reliant on cloacal respiration (Tucker et al. 2001). The longest single dive measured in winter was 21 days in comparison to the longest dive in summer, which was 2.39 days (Gordos et al. 2003).

The greatest current threat to the Fitzroy River Turtle is egg predation although habitat modification, such as the construction of weirs and dams, also pose a tangible threat (Limpus 2007).

Egg Predation and Nest Destruction

Fitzroy River Turtles may be vulnerable to predation by pigs, foxes and dogs if forced to move over land due to artificial barriers (Venz 2002). Nests and eggs may also be threatened by fox, feral pig, dog, goanna and water rat predation (Limpus 2007). At some sights, nest predation has resulted in the loss of 100% of eggs, which has resulted in a loss of juvenile turtles and has caused the population to consist mainly of ageing turtles (Limpus 2007). Nesting sites may also be threatened by unseasonable flooding or trampling by stock (Limpus 2007; Venz 2002).

Habitat Degradation

Rivers within the Fitzroy River Turtle's range have experienced increases in turbidity since the species' discovery (Venz 2002). Increasing turbidity and sedimentation may affect food resources and cloacal respiration, and have been observed to coincide with some population declines (Cann 1998). Pollution of water and soil by surrounding land uses, such as agriculture and mining operations, may also pose a threat to populations (Cann 1998; Cogger et al. 1993).

Weeds can cause infestations at nest sites making it more difficult for Fitzroy River Turtles to access their preferred nesting sites (Limpus 2007).

Flow regulation may threaten this species through potential impacts on dietary ecology or respiratory physiology (Tucker et al. 2001). Dams and weirs may also act as a physical barrier, restricting access to feeding or nesting areas (Venz 2002). Two individuals appear to have died as a result of washing over a weir at Theodore (J. Cann cited in Venz 2002).

Limpus (2007) suggests the following recommendations to manage the known threats to the Fitzroy River Turtle:

Feral Animal and Weed Control
Eradicate or control feral animals, such as foxes, feral pigs and wild dogs, along rivers where the Fitzroy River Turtle occurs. Manually control aquatic weed infestations at nest sites before the nesting season (Limpus 2007).

Habitat Improvement
Managing Grazing
Monitor the impact of grazing on water quality and riparian vegetation and adjust grazing management practices to reduce adverse impacts. Where possible, stock exclusion or rotation are recommended (Limpus 2007).

Managing Waterways
Maintain natural drainage patterns, water table and water quality where this species occurs, including areas adjacent to, or uphill of these populations. If natural hydrological conditions have already been altered, appropriate drainage patterns and water quality levels should be determined (Limpus 2007).

Habitat Protection
Develop and implement a stock management plan along riparian habitats and travelling stock routes (TSSC 2008ge). Where possible, reduce stock and vehicle access to stream banks to protect turtle feeding and breeding areas from disturbance. Undertake riparian rehabilitation projects (Limpus 2007).

The following recovery actions are recommended (EPA 2007a):

  • maintain nesting banks used by the turtles and protect turtle nests from predation and disturbance
  • improve recruitment of hatchlings into the population
  • maintain stream flow and connectivity of turtle populations between impoundments
  • improve water quality in the lower Fitzroy River catchment
  • boat owners should look out for turtles floating at the surface and 'go slow for those below' to give turtles time to get out of the way of oncoming boats.

The following projects have received Government funding grants for conservation and recovery work benefiting the Fitzroy River Turtle:
Greening Australia Queensland Inc received $19 618 through the Threatened Species Network Community Grants in 2007–08. This project will directly benefit the turtle population through nest protection, weed control and fencing. The project will also raise awareness of a locally threatened species.

There are several studies describing the habitat and biological characteristics of the Fitzroy River Turtle:

  • Seasonal changes in the diving performance of the bimodally respiring freshwater turtle Rheodytes leukops in a natural setting (Gordos et al. 2003).
  • Seasonal changes in the diel surfacing behaviour of the bimodally respiring freshwater turtle Rheodytes leukops (Gordos et al. 2003a).
  • Effect of water depth and water velocity upon the surfacing frequency of the bimodally respiring freshwater turtle, Rheodytes leukops (Gordos et al. 2004).
  • Home ranges of Fitzroy River turtles (Rheodytes leukops) overlap riffle zones: potential concerns related to river regulations (Tucker et al. 2001).

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Agriculture and Aquaculture:Agriculture and Aquaculture:Land clearing, habitat fragmentation and/or habitat degradation Reptile diversity at risk in the Brigalow Belt, Queensland. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum. 42(2):475-486. (Covacevich, J.A., P.J. Couper & K.R. McDonald, 1998) [Journal].
Rheodytes leukops in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006ty) [Internet].
Commonwealth Listing Advice on Land clearance (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2001w) [Listing Advice].
Agriculture and Aquaculture:Livestock Farming and Grazing:Habitat alteration (vegetation, soil, hydrology) due to trampling and grazing by livestock Rheodytes leukops in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006ty) [Internet].
Biological Resource Use:Fishing and Harvesting Aquatic Resources:Habitat modification and negative impacts on species numbers due to recreational fishing Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Rheodytes leukops (Fitzroy Tortoise) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2008ge) [Conservation Advice].
Energy Production and Mining:Mining and Quarrying:Habitat destruction, disturbance and/or modification due to mining activities Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Rheodytes leukops (Fitzroy Tortoise) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2008ge) [Conservation Advice].
Human Intrusions and Disturbance:Recreational Activities:Recreational use of marine environment Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Rheodytes leukops (Fitzroy Tortoise) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2008ge) [Conservation Advice].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Vulpes vulpes (Red Fox, Fox) Rheodytes leukops in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006ty) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Felis catus (Cat, House Cat, Domestic Cat) Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Rheodytes leukops (Fitzroy Tortoise) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2008ge) [Conservation Advice].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Canis lupus familiaris (Domestic Dog) Rheodytes leukops in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006ty) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Grazing, tramping, competition and/or habitat degradation Sus scrofa (Pig) Rheodytes leukops in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006ty) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Problematic Native Species:Competition, grazing, predation and/or habitat degradation by mammals Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Rheodytes leukops (Fitzroy Tortoise) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2008ge) [Conservation Advice].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Problematic Native Species:Predation by reptiles Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Rheodytes leukops (Fitzroy Tortoise) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2008ge) [Conservation Advice].
Natural System Modifications:Dams and Water Management/Use:Alteration of hydrological regimes and water quality Rheodytes leukops in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006ty) [Internet].
Natural System Modifications:Dams and Water Management/Use:Alteration of hydrological regimes including flooding Rheodytes leukops in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006ty) [Internet].
Natural System Modifications:Dams and Water Management/Use:Changes to hydrology including construction of dams/barriers Rheodytes leukops in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006ty) [Internet].
Pollution:Pollution:Changes to water and sediment flows leading to erosion, siltation and pollution Rheodytes leukops in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006ty) [Internet].
Pollution:Pollution:Declining water quality (salinity, nutrient and/or turbitity) Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Rheodytes leukops (Fitzroy Tortoise) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2008ge) [Conservation Advice].

Cann, J. (1998). Australian Freshwater Turtles. Singapore: Beaumont Publishing Pty Ltd.

Cogger, H.G. (2000). Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia - 6th edition. Sydney, NSW: Reed New Holland.

Cogger, H.G., E.E. Cameron, R.A. Sadlier & P. Eggler (1993). The Action Plan for Australian Reptiles. [Online]. Canberra, ACT: Australian Nature Conservation Agency. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/action/reptiles/index.html.

Covacevich, J.A., P.J. Couper & K.R. McDonald (1996a). Reptiles of Queensland's Brigalow Biogeographic Region: Distributions, Status and Conservation. Page(s) 148. Canberra: Australian Nature Conservation Agency (ANCA).

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (2007a). Fitzroy River Turtle. [Online]. Queensland: Environmental Protection Agency. Available from: http://www.epa.qld.gov.au/nature_conservation/wildlife/az_of_animals/fitzroy_river_turtle. [Accessed: 10-Oct-2008].

Gordos, M.A., C.E. Franklin & C.J. Limpus (2003). Seasonal changes in the diving performance of the bimodally respiring freshwater turtle Rheodytes leukops in a natural setting. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 81:617-625.

Gordos, M.A., C.E. Franklin & C.J. Limpus (2003a). Seasonal changes in the diel surfacing behaviour of the bimodally respiring freshwater turtle Rheodytes leukops. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 81:1614-1622.

Gordos, M.A., C.E. Franklin & C.J. Limpus (2004). Effect of water depth and water velocity upon the surfacing frequency of the bimodally respiring freshwater turtle, Rheodytes leukops. The Journal of Experimental Biology. 207:3099-3107.

Latta, C. & G. Latta (2005). The Fitzroy River Turtle (Rheodytes leukops): Another Species Under Threat!. Reptiles Australia. Volume 2:Issue 2. [Online]. Available from: http://www.pnc.com.au/~turtles/aftcra/fitzroyriverarticle.htm. [Accessed: 16-Oct-2008].

Legler, J.M. (1985). Australian chelid turtles: reproductive patterns in wide-ranging taxa. In: Grigg, G., R. Shine & H. Ehmann, eds. Biology of Australasian Frogs and Reptiles. Page(s) 117-123. Sydney: Royal Zoological Society of NSW.

Limpus, C. (2007). Conservation Management Profile: Fitzroy River turtle - Rheodytes leukops. [Online]. Queensland: Environmental Protection Agency. Available from: http://www.epa.qld.gov.au/publications/p02331aa.pdf/Fitzroy_River_turtle_emRheodytes_leukops/em.pdf. [Accessed: 16-Oct-2008].

McDonald, K.R., J.A. Covacevich, G.J. Ingram & P.J. Couper (1991). The status of frogs and reptiles. In: Ingram, G.J. & R.J. Raven, eds. An Atlas of Queensland's Frogs, Reptiles, Birds and Mammals. Page(s) 338-345. Brisbane: Queensland Museum.

Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) (2008ge). Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Rheodytes leukops (Fitzroy Tortoise). [Online]. Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/species/pubs/1761-conservation-advice.pdf.

Tucker, A.D., C.J. Limpus, T.E. Priest, J. Cay, C. Glen & E. Guarino (2001). Home ranges of Fitzroy River turtles (Rheodytes leukops) overlap riffle zones: potential concerns related to river regulation. Biological Conservation. 102(2):171-181.

Venz, M. (2002). The Fitzroy River Turtle (Rheodytes leukops). Venz, M., M. Mathieson & M. Schulz, eds. Fauna of the Dawson River Floodplain. Brisbane: Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.

Wilson, S. & G. Swan (2003). A Complete Guide to Reptiles of Australia. Page(s) 480. Sydney: Reed New Holland.

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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Rheodytes leukops in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed Sun, 31 Aug 2014 15:45:39 +1000.