Asheboro, NC - The North Carolina Zoo will host the fourth Box Turtle Conservation Workshop on March 22-23, with some 80 reptile experts and conservationists from across the country expected to attend.

According N.C. Zoo Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles John Groves, the workshop is aimed at individuals actively engaged in box turtle research and conservation. Speaker presentations are scheduled for both days with an optional tour of the zoo slated for Sunday, March 24.

The workshop is sponsored by the National Box Turtle Conservation Committee, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the National Science Foundation, The HERP Project and Maryland's Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary as well as the N.C. Zoo. Additional support for the conference has also been provided by the Tortoise Reserve, the Mid-Atlantic Turtle & Tortoise Society and Walmart of Asheboro.

According to Groves, the workshop will focus on box turtle population trends, ecology, life history strategies and epidemiology. Box turtle populations are declining throughout their range, Groves added, but few efforts have been made to assess current population status for developing long-term conservation strategies across their natural range.

"A major goal of the workshop is to provide current information on population size throughout the species' range and to encourage population studies in states where these turtles occur," Groves explained.

A special session on infectious diseases, chaired by reptile expert Dr. Matt Allender of the University of Illinois, will also be held in light of recent concerns over the disease "ranavirus" found in wild box turtles, Groves added.

Keynote speaker for the conference will be Dr. Michael Dorcas of Davidson College who will discuss Eastern box turtle demography, conservation and strategies for helping wild populations by engaging citizen scientists. Dorcas has studied the life history strategies and ecology of reptiles and amphibians for more than 20 years and has published more than 75 scientific papers. Dorcas also serves on the Box Turtle Connection Committee in North Carolina and in 2009 was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The zoo is an agency of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, John E. Skvarla, III, Secretary; Pat McCrory, Governor.