U.S. Department of Agriculture: Forest Service -- National Agroforestry Center


Document Type


Date of this Version



U.S. Government work


Western North American Naturalist 79(1), © 2019, pp. 56–62


The ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata Agassiz) is a species of greatest conservation need in South Dakota. Habitat loss through agricultural development and fragmentation is the main threat to the species throughout its range, which extends from Wisconsin and northern Indiana through the central Great Plains, and from southern South Dakota to Arizona, northern Mexico, and the Gulf Coast of Texas. The objectives of this study were to determine the ornate box turtle’s preferred vegetation characteristics (microhabitat) compared to the available habitat (macrohabitat) on the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota Sandhills region, during 2010–2011. In both years, using a modified Robel pole method, we determined that turtles selected microhabitat with greater visual obstruction readings (VORs) than those within the random available macrohabitat (P < 0.01), with means of 22 cm and 15 cm, respectively. Higher VOR values indicate greater vegetation height and/or density. Canopy cover results showed that ornate box turtles exhibited high selection (P < 0.01) for sand sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia Torr.) coverage (38%) but selected lower cover than available within the macrohabitat for total grasses (37%), total forbs (19%), and bare ground (14%). Shrubs, such as sand sagebrush, are an important component of box turtle microhabitat, as they facilitate thermoregulation by providing cool areas during the summer and favorable hibernation sites during the winter. Shrub coverage is highly recommended for consideration when developing habitat management plans that aim to increase or sustain ornate box turtle populations in the Sandhills ecological type.