In pursuit of research in chelonian conservation, Fei Yan Zhang, a student scientist from China in the Asian Scholarship Program (ASP), has come to visit Dr. Thomas P. Wilson in the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences. Wilson and research scientists in Florida and Mississippi have hosted students in ASP, begun in 2000 and primarily based at the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, New Jersey. The program is sponsored by the Turtle Survival Alliance.
Zhang is learning several life history and ecology techniques that Wilson and his students use to study populations and communities of riverine turtles.
“Fei Yan is planning to use the techniques that she has learned here at UTC and take them back to China so that she can better inventory and monitor their native populations of freshwater turtles,” Wilson said. “In short, this is why the Asian Scholarship program is so successful– because US scientists help train developing scientists from countries that otherwise would not have the ability to direct research in this area of turtle conservation.”
Zhang’s pursuit of turtle conservation transcends a personal interest. Wilson references the Asian Turtle Crisis, fueled by a robust economy and the overwhelming harvest of a variety of species of turtles. “Around the world turtles are collected and exported for pets, food and in some Asian cultures they are harvested for medicinal purposes,” said Wilson. “The collection of turtles as a food sources is higher in Asia than in the West.”
Turtles occur in a variety of habitats around the world, with approximately 255 known species, according to Wilson.
Wilson’s research with the Tennessee Aquarium on the Tennessee River was most interesting to Zhang, who also visited Enterprise South property the University has been gifted. There, Wilson conducts research on salamanders.
A wetland near the University’s site is the site of field studies where Wilson and his UTC students have identified thirteen species of salamanders, some never previously identified in the Hamilton County area. After counting 150 female spotted salamanders which successfully reproduced at the wetland, Wilson told Zhang and others who visited the property “it is easier to understand what is going on with the wetland on the property by examining the salamanders.”