Committee Chair

Wilson, Thomas P.

Committee Member

Richards, S.M., Adsit, Karen


Dept. of Biology, Geology, and Environmental Science


College of Arts and Sciences


University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Place of Publication

Chattanooga (Tenn.)


In 1999, the Tennessee Aquarium initiated a long-term mark-recapture study to promote the conservation of freshwater turtles in the Tennessee River Gorge (TRG). The TRG consists of a 42-kilometer stretch of the Tennessee River surrounded by 27,000 acres (11,000 hectares) and is known as the "Grand Canyon of Tennessee." In 2002, the Aquarium established a partnership with The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) and the Tennessee River Gorge Trust (TRGT) to expand the program. Since then, researchers at UTC have been conducting scientific research at the TRG each year in an effort to increase the amount of available information on the turtles in the Gorge. In 2004, the partnership expanded its initiative to include ecotoxicology and environmental education components. The goals of these components were three-fold. The first objective was to determine the presence and concentration of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the plasma of a riverine turtle assemblage. Target POPs for this study were polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and a suite of organochlorine pesticides including DDT, mirex and hexachlorobenzene. The second objective was to examine possible differences in their concentration based on two parameters, species and gender. The final objective of this study was to develop educational materials for middle and high-school students within Hamilton County. These materials were designed to increase public awareness of turtle conservation issues and foster partnership and interaction between individuals from different organizations and institutions. All of the designated objectives were to be built upon by future graduate students and other interested parties. In doing so, the long-term goal of turtle conservation in the Tennessee River Gorge would be realized. For the ecotoxicology component, blood plasma from two turtle species, the Cumberland slider (Trachemys scripta troosti) and the common musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) were analyzed for the presence of 83 PCB congeners, 24 PBDE congeners, 6 DDT congeners, and 12 additional organochlorine pesticides using GC/MS operating in electron impact mode. Concentrations of all target environmental contaminants were found in varying amounts in the plasma of the two turtle species studied. Common musk turtle concentrations were typically higher than those observed for the Cumberland slider. Male toxicant concentrations were generally higher than female concentrations for both species studied. This trend was consistent with previously published results indicating a decrease in toxicant concentration in females as a result of depuration to their young. Natural history characteristics of both species were used to account for their difference in concentration. With regard to the environmental education component of this study, three American schools and one British college were used to evaluate the educational benefit of conservation-based laboratory exercises within Hamilton County. Students were given a pre- and post-test questionnaire to determine content assimilation. Generally, post-test scores were significantly higher than pretest scores for all schools evaluated. A research guide was developed based on the test questionnaire, and was comprised of four exercises with outdoor activities and quizzes. The guide was used by one local school as a part of their summer curriculum component. Teachers and students expressed their interest and enthusiasm while going through the research guide and expressed their desire to integrate the research activities into their annual summer program. For both components of this study, additional research is needed. In terms of ecotoxicology, further investigation into differences in toxicant concentrations based on factors such as diet, age class, and body size will add to the data generated in this study. As it relates to environmental education, additional research into the use of multimedia presentations, outdoor activities and field trips will allow more opportunities for students within Hamilton County to be a part of future research and conservation activities.


I would like to thank my advisor, Dr. Thomas Wilson, and the members of my graduate advising committee, Drs. Sean Richards, and Karen Adsit for reviewing this manuscript and providing guidance. Additional thanks to those involved with the collection of field and laboratory data, especially Chris Manis, Robert Minton, Tim Schmeidhausen, Dr. Chris Keller, and Dr. Jennifer Keller. Many thanks to Dr. Mark Schorr for assisting in the statistical analysis and to Jack Pickett, Kim Brown, Dawn Richards, and Steve Price for allowing me to work with their students. Lastly, I wish to express my gratitude to the Tennessee Aquarium, Tennessee Aquarium Research Institute (TNARI), The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Lupton Renaissance Gift Fund, and Tennessee River Gorge Trust for their unwavering support. All research was conducted under permit number TWRA#1534 following American Zoo and Aquarium Association and The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency guidelines.


M. S.; A thesis submitted to the faculty of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Science.




Wildlife conservation--United States--Tennessee; Trachemys scripta; Common musk turtle--Conservation; Environmental toxicology; Environmental education--Activity programs


Tennessee River Valley


Environmental Education

Document Type

Masters theses




xv, 185 leaves



Call Number

LB2369.2 .M677 2005