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Alumnus speaks to students about turtle conservation

CMU alum Dr. Matt Cross shares his research about Eastern Box Turtles on Oct. 12 at the Biosciences Building.

Matt Cross, conservation biologist and Central Michigan University alumnus spoke to biology students about his project regarding the conservation of Eastern Box Turtles and his job at the Toledo Zoo Oct. 12 in the Biosciences building.

Cross received his bachelor’s degree in biology and his master’s in conservation biology and geography from CMU. He received his doctorate from Bowling Green State University in 2016.

While at BGSU, Cross studied the behaviors and movement patterns of Eastern Box Turtles in the Oak Openings Preserve, a nature preserve located between Swanton and Whitehouse, Ohio. He and his team worked with park managers to find ways to protect the endangered species within the nature preserve.

Like many other nature preserves, the managers of Oak Openings conduct prescribed fires to stimulate plant growth and protect the biodiversity of the park. Cross worked closely with the fire managers to research how Eastern Box Turtles were affected by the prescribed burn. 

“We know that turtles and fire are a problem,” Cross said. “This is not only an ecological problem for land managers to try and save these (turtles), this is a PR problem.”

Before his study, it was believed the turtles moved too slow to protect themselves from the fire, but Cross found most of the turtles he was tracking not only survived, but were unharmed by the fire. Most of them sought refuge in warm, wet parts of the forest, but one particular turtle managed to wedge himself into a wet log, where he was safe and cozy during the fire. 

Cross also tracked the movement of the turtles to prevent them from getting hit by cars. 

“We know that turtles are frequently hit by cars,” Cross said. “So we made a distribution model of where they’re likely to cross roads.”

Because of his research, the managers purchased and installed signs to alert drivers of possible wildlife crossings.

After getting his doctorate, Cross became a conservation biologist at the Toledo Zoo. Though his specialty is herpetology–the study of reptiles–Cross studies sturgeon, mudpuppies and the Karner blue butterfly, along with many species of turtles and snakes at the zoo. 

Biology faculty member Brad Swanson invited Cross to speak at the homecoming seminar for the Biology department. The department thought it would be beneficial to bring in alumni for the seminar that takes place during homecoming weekend.

“We were also excited to bring Matt in because he is not in a traditional academic position,” Swanson said. “He’s not working with the DNR or Fish and Wildlife Service. It was a way to expose our students to other careers that are available for people with their degrees.”

Swanson also invited Cross hoping he could talk to biology students about graduate school and possible jobs they could get after graduating.

And that is exactly what Grand Rapids junior Megan Bos got to do. Bos is studying natural resources and geography, both of which are similar to what Cross studied in graduate school. She currently works at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids. 

“I want to ask (Cross) if I should stay at my zoo or go to graduate school,” Bos said. “I want to know what he thinks is the best option.”

Swanson said the next biology seminar will be Nov. 9, featuring Amanda Wollenberg from Kalamazoo College.