From the zoo to the great outdoors – a total of 650 European pond turtles have walked this path in the German-French border region over the past ten years. The last group was released into its natural habitat in mid-September 2022 in the Alsatian bio-reserve Woerr - to be closely observed there in the coming years. The aim of the campaign is to reintroduce the species, which is threatened with extinction according to the Red List, in a restored wetland. Since 2022, the large-scale European research project Emys-R has provided a new scientific framework, headed by Dr. Kathrin Theissinger is involved, scientist at the Hessian LOEWE Center for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (LOEWE-TBG) and the Senckenberg Nature Research Society. In addition to ecological aspects, there are also social aspects in focus.
In Europe, the European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis) is the only naturally occurring freshwater turtle species. The radius of movement and population development of the released reptiles are precisely documented in monthly studies from April to September before the tortoises disappear to hibernate. The animals are equipped with microchips for movement analysis. Fecal samples are also taken in order to draw conclusions about their diet through genomic analyzes in the LOEWE-TBG laboratories. At the same time, water samples are examined. The results provide information on how the return of the reptiles to the Upper Rhine floodplain affects the biodiversity there.
The black turtle is almost extinct: in Europe, it has suffered the greatest decline of any reptile. The well-researched omnivore plays a central role in the balance of ecosystems in water bodies. Therefore, it is also considered an umbrella species for biodiversity: if the European pond turtle is preserved, other species will also benefit.
This corresponds to the approach of the Emys-R project. The action-oriented, participatory research project aims to identify the most effective ecological methods that contribute to wetland restoration and the reintroduction of the European pond turtle, thereby also enhancing local biodiversity.
In order to be able to analyze the reintroduction from different perspectives, numerous other partners from natural sciences, humanities and social sciences-oriented institutions as well as zoos in which the turtles are bred as part of the European Breeding Program for Endangered Species (EEP) are involved. The Emys-R project acquired by Theissinger will be financed from 2022 to 2025 with a sum of one million euros as part of the EU tender "BiodivERsA - BiodivRestore".