Even though humans live longer lives compared to their historical counterparts, no one can escape the inevitability of aging. However, thanks to newly discovered research assisted by Lodi’s Micke Grove Zoo, tortoises and turtles may buck this trend by following a different pattern of aging compared to humans and other species.
In a new study published in the journal Science, researchers used data contributed by Micke Grove Zoo in collaboration with other zoos and aquariums to examine 52 species of turtles and tortoises. The data, recorded by Micke Grove Zoo in the Species360 Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS), enabled researchers to discover that, unlike humans and other species, turtles and tortoises defy common evolutionary theories and may reduce the rate of aging in response to improvements in environmental conditions.
Evolutionary theories of aging predict that all living organisms weaken and deteriorate with age (a process known as senescence) – and eventually die. Now, using data captured by Micke Grove Zoo and others, researchers from the Species360 Conservation Science Alliance and the University of Southern Denmark show that certain animal species, such as turtles and tortoises, may exhibit slower or even absent senescence when their living conditions improve.
Out of 52 turtle and tortoise species, 75 percent show extremely slow senescence, while 80 percent have slower senescence than modern humans.
“We find that some of these species can reduce their rate of aging in response to the improved living conditions found in zoos and aquariums, compared to the wild,” said study co-author, Prof. Dalia Conde, Species360 Director of Science, Head of the Species360 Conservation Science Alliance. “In addition, modern zoological organizations play an important role in conservation, education and research, and this study shows the immense value of zoos and aquariums keeping records for the advancement of science.”
Trish Jackman, manager of Micke Grove Zoo, said the discovery affirms the zoo’s long-standing commitment to conservation and animal welfare and how it can contribute to species population management.
“We are thrilled to know that the hard work of our animal care specialists has aided in such an amazing discovery and helped researchers better understand aging in these species,” said Jackman.
The study also brings to light the continuing plight of exotic pets. Many are taken from the wild illegally, Jackman said, and those that are sold in the pet trade are often carelessly disposed of in waterways or elsewhere once they grow too large to deal with.
“Dumping an animal from the pet trade is not only a danger to that animal but also puts wild populations at extreme risk,” Jackman explained. “As this study clearly demonstrates, species like turtles are a lifetime investment.”
Micke Grove Zoo is a member of Species360, a non-profit organization which maintains the Zoological Information Management Systems (ZIMS) – the largest database on wildlife in human care. As part of Micke Grove Zoo’s commitment to conservation and providing high standards of animal welfare, it uses ZIMS to keep detailed records of its animal collections and has actively collected and shared data in ZIMS on this species which has directly contributed to this study.
The article is available at: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abl7811
For more information about the study and other projects using ZIMS data, visit: https://conservation.species360.org/in-the-news/
Micke Grove Zoo, part of Micke Grove Regional Park, is open Wednesdays through Sundays. Zoo hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., last admission at 4:30 p.m.
Zoo admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children age 13 to 3 (age two and under are free). Vehicle entry to Micke Grove Park is $5 weekdays and $6 weekends and most holidays. Micke Grove Park and Zoo is off Armstrong Road, west of Highway 99, between Stockton and Lodi. For additional information, call (209) 331-2010 or visit the website, www.mgzoo.com.
• Species360 is a global non-profit that facilitates international collaboration in collecting, sharing, and analyzing knowledge on wildlife.
• Species360 maintains the Zoological Information Management Systems (ZIMS), which is trusted and used by more than 1,200 aquariums, zoos, wildlife centers, sanctuaries, universities, and governmental organizations in 101 countries around the world.
• ZIMS is the world’s most comprehensive database of knowledge on more than 22,000 species, increasing vital information about the animal kingdom.
• ZIMS is used to establish best practices in aquatics, husbandry, enrichment, medical care, animal welfare, reproduction, population management, and conservation, and to provide Global Medical Resources to wildlife professionals worldwide.
• The Species360 Conservation Science Alliance is a global alliance of 240 research partners, led by Species360’s Director of Science, Prof. Dalia Conde. It includes a team based at the University of Southern Denmark.
• The Conservation Science Alliance harnesses the power of aggregated data in ZIMS and transforms it into scientific information to inform animal welfare and conservation decisions.
• For more information: www.species360.org.