AMUR-HEILONG RIVER BASIN

 

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Species diversity and use of biological resources
Chinese soft-shell turtle
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Chinese soft-shell turtle inhabits Russia, the Koreas, China, Indochina, and Japan, but  north-eastern populations in the Amur-Heilong River basin are unique. Here the turtle was known to live as far north as Bolon Lake in the north, and the lower Zeya River in the northwest.  It is distributed in Primorsky, Khabarovsky, Evreiskaya, and Amurskaya provinces of Russia on the main channels of the Amur-Heilong and Ussuri Rivers and lower reaches of their tributaries.  Since 2000 the species has been recognized by IUCN as vulnerable and wild populations are reported to be in decline throughout the range.  It is included in red data books and protected species lists of four provinces of Russia, and wild populations are legally protected in Heilongjiang Province of China.  This turtle is the only reptile specifically covered by the Russia-China Agreement on Amur Fisheries as a species in need of protection.  The decline in Amur-Heilong populations of the turtle is well known, but poorly documented.  Local fishermen note that over the past 20 years the range of soft-shelled turtles in the upper-middle Amur-Heilong shrank by 100 kilometers to the south-east from the Zeya River mouth to Konstantinovka village.  According to estimates of local fishermen in China and Russia, the density of turtles declined substantially as measured by the frequency of accidental capture in fishing-nets.
The turtle inhabits rivers, lakes, ponds, and reservoirs where water flows slowly.  It is fond of quiet, clear, sunlit shores with gentle slopes where turtles are active when exposed to the sun.  Soft-shell turtles  feed on snails, mollusks, fishes, shrimps, crabs, insects, frogs, and earthworms.  Hibernation extends for 7 months from October until the following May in the mud of the river or lake bottom.  Breeding season lasts from June to August on the Amur-Heilong.  Oviparous, eggs are laid in loose soil or on sandy shores that are sunny and sheltered.  Under natural conditions, hatching occurs after two months.  Availability of suitable hatching habitat may be the most important limiting factor for soft-shells, since flooding season in the area coincides with incubation season.
Factors threatening turtle populations include: flooding regimes, human disturbance on shores, predation of eggs and young by foxes, raccoon dogs, and people, predation of young by waterbirds and birds of prey, habitat conversion and pollution mainly by agriculture, incidental take in fishing nets, limited access to breeding tributaries by nets and barbwire fences on the border.  Most authoritative Russian experts believe that availability of breeding habitat and predation by man are two leading limiting factors for Amur-Heilong populations.  Chinese soft-shelled turtle has been used for food for ages.  It is also used in Chinese traditional medicine.  Demand for Chinese soft-shelled turtle is strong.  Lately, great success has been achieved in turtle farming in China, with millions of turtles bred and supplied to food and medicinal markets.  Escape of farmed animals into wild populations is also common and has added to confusion regarding the genetic status of local populations.  Chinese also often release turtles (or fishes, or birds) to honor spirits of a given place.  As with most other species, turtles from the wild are considered superior to farmed turtles in their medicinal qualities, and market supply of farmed turtles is unable to offset demand for those taken from the wild.
Protection of the Amur-Heilong basin population is especially important since the species is at the northernmost point of its geographic range and thus more vulnerable to local extinction.  Similar to the lotus, turtle is a wonderful indicator of cultural differences in the basin.  For most Chinese it is a common food product, while for most Russians it is a unique exotic representative of tropical fauna in northern regions.

Map collections:

Species richness

Distribution of charismatic species

 

Maps:

Fauna types

Kaluga sturgeon

Upper Ussury –Lake Khanka

 

Photo:

Fish diversity

Turtle and other relatives of the black dragon

Fisheries

Amur meadows and wetlands – Amur midflow

Khanka Lake and Upper Ussury Wetlands

 

GIS: Charismatic species ranges

 

Chinese soft-shell turtle. Lake Khanka. (Photo by V.Solkin)

Also look:

Species richness in Amur-Heilong River Basin

Kaluga sturgeon

Salmonid diversity

Chinese soft-shelled turtle

History and reasons for the collapse of Amur fisheries

China fisheries

Amur-Ussury Fishing rules

Fish vs Pollution

 

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