Turtles of the Igapó: Their Ecology and Susceptibility to Mercury Uptake

  • Larissa SchneiderEmail author
  • Richard C. Vogt


This book chapter is the first literature specifically covering the turtles of the igapo environments of the Amazon. The flooding pulse of the igapo and its peculiar chemistry play a crucial role in turtle ecology, remarkably different from any other environments in the Amazon. Discussed inside this chapter is the definition of the igapo and the particular ecology and life of five turtle species most common in this environment: red-headed Amazon River turtle (Podocnemis erythrocephala), yellow-spotted Amazon River turtle (Podocnemis unifilis), giant South American river turtle (Podocnemis expansa), big-headed sideneck turtle (Peltocephalus dumerilianus), and matamata (Chelus fimbriata). These turtles have been historically exploited by human beings causing most of these turtles to be currently listed at some level of endangerment by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They are also protected from international trade by CITES. How the economic development of the Amazon affected the turtles, including covering the most relevant threats and conservation management advice for each species, can also be found in this chapter. Finally, the end of this chapter explores how the unique chemistry of the igapo promotes the uptake of mercury (Hg) by turtles in igapo more efficiently than any other environment of the Amazon. Information in this chapter highlights the need for more direct application from the government agencies to protect these turtle species, through direct research and appropriate conservation in the igapo. The conservation measures provided in this chapter offer the protection turtles need so that populations levels will be maintained. So, turtles can still perform their ecologically functional duties of recycling plant protoplasm to animal matter to feed the predators of the igapo.


Conservation Wildlife trade Traditional communities Blackwater Rio Negro Rio Guapore Rio Trombetas Podocnemis 



We thank Jeremy Cradock and Bruce Forsberg for their valuable comments on this manuscript.


  1. Alho CJR (2017) Environmental effects of hydropower reservoirs on wild mammals and freshwater turtles in Amazonia: a review. Oecologia Aust 15:593–604CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bates HW (1863) The naturalist on the river Amazons: a record of adventures, habits of animals, sketches of Brazilian and Indian life, and aspects of nature under the Equator, during eleven years of travel. London: John Murray. 364 pp.Google Scholar
  3. Belger L, Forsberg BR (2006) Factors controlling Hg levels in two predatory fish species in the negro river basin, Brazilian Amazon. Sci Total Environ 367:451–459 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Belkin DA, Gans C (1968) An unusual chelonian feeding niche. Ecology 49:768–769CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beneditto APM, Bittar VT, Camargo PB, Rezende CE, Kehrig HA (2011) Mercury and nitrogen isotope in a marine species from a tropical coastal food web. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 62:264–271 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Branfireun BA, Heyes A, Roulet NT (1996) The hydrology and methylmercury dynamics of a Precambrian shield headwater peatland. Water Resour Res 32:1785–1794 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Clarkson TW (1997) The toxicology of mercury. Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci 34:369–403 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. De La Ossa VJ, Vogt RC, Santos-Júnior LB (2011) Feeding of Peltocephalus dumerilianus (Testudines: Podocnemididae) in a natural environment. Actual Biol 33:85–92Google Scholar
  9. Eggins S, Schneider L, Krikowa F, Vogt RC, Da Silveira R, Maher W (2015) Mercury concentrations in different tissues of turtle and caiman species from the Rio Purus, Amazonas, Brazil. Environ Toxicol Chem 34:2771–2781 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fadini PS, Jardim WF (2001) Is the Negro River Basin (Amazon) impacted by naturally occurring mercury? Sci Total Environ 275:71–82 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ferrara CR, Vogt RC, Sousa-Lima RS, Bernardes VCD (2014) Sound communication and social behavior in an Amazonian river turtle (Podocnemis expansa). Herpetologica 70:149–156CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Furch K, Junk WJ (1980) Tropical ecology and development: proceedings of the Vth international symposium of tropical ecology. In: Tropical ecology and development: presented at the proceedings of the Vth international symposium of tropical ecology. International Society of Tropical Ecology, Kuala Lumpur, pp 771–796Google Scholar
  13. Goulding M, Barthem R, Ferreira EJG (2003) Smithsonian atlas of the Amazon. Smithsonian Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, p 253Google Scholar
  14. Hintelmann H (2010) Organomercurials. Their formation and pathways in the environment. Met Ions Life Sci 7:365–401 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Jardim WF, Bisinoti MC, Fadini PS, Silva GS (2010) Mercury redox chemistry in the Negro River Basin, Amazon: the role of organic matter and solar light. Aquat Geochem 16:267–278 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Junk W (1997) The Central Amazon floodplain – ecology of a pulsing system. Springer, BerlinCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kasper D, Forsberg BR, Amaral JHF, Py-Daniel SS, Bastos WR, Malm O (2017) Methylmercury modulation in Amazon rivers linked to basin characteristics and seasonal flood-pulse. Environ Sci Technol 51:14182–14191 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Magalhães MS, Vogt RC, Barcellos JFM, Moura CEB, Da Silveira R (2014) Morphologyof the digestive tube of the Podocnemididae in the Brazilian Amazon. Herpetologica 70(4):449–463CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Morel FMM, Kraepiel AML, Amyot M (1998) The chemical cycle and bioaccumulation of mercury. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 29:543–566 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ríos-Villamizar EA, Piedade MTF, Da Costa JG, Adeney JM, Junk WJ (2013) Chemistry of different Amazonian water types for river classification: a preliminary review. In: WIT transactions on ecology and the environment, vol 178. WIT Press, Ashurst, United Kingdom. pp 17–28
  21. Roulet M, Lucotte M, Saint-Aubin A, Tran S, Rhéault I, Farella N, De Jesus Da silva E, Dezencourt J, Sousa Passos CJ, Santos Soares G, Guimarães JR, Mergler D, Amorim M (1998) The geochemistry of mercury in central Amazonian soils developed on the Alter-do-Chão formation of the lower Tapajós River Valley, Pará state, Brazil. Sci Total Environ 223:1–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Roulet M, Lucotte M, Canuel R, Farella N, Goch YG, Peleja JR, Guimarães JRD, Mergler D, Amorim M (2001) Spatio-temporal geochemistry of mercury in waters of the Tapajós and Amazon rivers, Brazil. Limnol Oceanogr 46:141–1157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Schneider L, Belger L, Burger J, Vogt R (2009) Mercury bioaccumulation in four tissues of Podocnemis erythrocephala (Podocnemididae: Testudines) as a function of water parameters. Sci Total Environ 407:1048–1054 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Schneider L, Belger L, Burger J, Vogt RC, Ferrara CR (2010) Mercury levels in muscle of six species of turtles eaten by people along the Rio Negro of the Amazon basin. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 58:444–450 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Schneider L, Ferrara CR, Vogt RC, Burger J (2011) History of turtle exploitation and management techniques to conserve turtles in the Rio Negro Basin of the Brazilian Amazon. Chelonian Conserv Biol 10:149–157 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Schneider L, Iverson JB, Vogt RC (2012) Podocnemis unifilis Troscheil 1848, Yellow-Spotted River turtle. Tracaja Catalogue Am Amphibians Reptiles 890:1–33Google Scholar
  27. Schneider L, Maher WA, Green AD, Vogt RC (2013) Mercury contamination in reptiles: an emerging problem with consequences for wild life and human health. In: Kim KH, Brown RJC (eds) Mercury: sources, applications and health impacts. Nova Science Publishers, New York, pp 173–232Google Scholar
  28. Schneider L, Ferrara CR, Vogt RC, Schaffer C (2016) Subsistence-level chelonian exploitation on the Rio Negro and one viable alternative. Chelonian Conserv Biol 15:36–42 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Silva-Forsberg MC, Forsberg BR, Zeidemann VK (1999) Mercury contamination in humans linked to river chemistry in the Amazon Basin. Ambio 28:519–521Google Scholar
  30. Thome-Souza M, Forsberg BR, Vogt RC, Sabbayrolles MGP, Peleja JRP (2004) The use of mercury and stable isotopes to investigate food chain structure in aquatic ecosystems in the Amazon. In: Presented at the VI International congress on the biology of fish. Fish Communities and Fisheries, Manaus, pp 235–239Google Scholar
  31. Vogt RC (2001) Turtles of the Rio Negro. In: Chao NL, Petry P, Prang G, Sonneschien L, Tlusty M (eds) Conservation and Management of Ornamental Fish Resources of the Rio Negro Basin, Amazonia, Brazil. Editora Universidade do Amazonas, Manaus, AM. Brazil, pp 245–262Google Scholar
  32. Vogt RC (2008) Amazon turtles. Grafica Biblos, Lima. In: PeruGoogle Scholar
  33. Vogt RC (2014) Chattering turtles of the Rio Trombetas. Tortoise 1:118–127Google Scholar
  34. Vogt RC, Sever DM, Moreira G (1998) Esophageal papillae in Pelomedusid turtles. J Herpetol 32:279–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Archaeology and Natural History, Australian National UniversityCanberra, ACT.Australia
  2. 2.Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da AmazôniaManausBrazil
  3. 3.Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da AmazôniaManausBrazil

Personalised recommendations