Recent Tortoise News

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Research on desert tortoises has received some press recently. SBSC scientists and their collaborators have been studying the influence of a wind turbine facility on potential predators of the tortoises and on the effects of drought on tortoises near Joshua Tree National Park. Their work was recently covered by Popular Science and the LA Times.

Popular Science

Jeff Lovich from the SBSC was interviewed by Popular Science about his recently published work regarding the effects a wind turbine facility had on potential predators of desert tortoises. The link to the Popular Science piece is here: http://www.popsci.com/wind-farm-predators. The link to Jeff’s recently published paper is here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/wol1/doi/10.1002/jwmg.21262/abstract.

Los Angeles Times

A Los Angeles Times article was published about Jeff Lovich’s research on the effects of drought on desert tortoises near Joshua Tree National Park. Jeff Lovich was quoted in the article as was Kristen Lalumiere (Joshua Tree National Park) and Debra Hughson (Mojave National Preserve). The title of the article is, “An ‘evolutionary gamble’ may be killing Joshua Tree’s mother tortoises”, and the link to the article is here: http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-tortoise-survival-20170515-story.html.

A female Agassiz's desert tortoise at Joshua Tree National Park
A female Agassiz's desert tortoise at Joshua Tree National Park lounges in the entrance of her burrow, wearing a USGS radio.(Credit: Shellie Puffer, USGS. Public domain.)

Related Content

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Tall windmills on a semi-arid landscape with snow-covered mountains in the background
December 7, 2016

The desert Southwest is experiencing rapid development of utility-scale solar and wind energy facilities. Although clean renewable energy has environmental benefits, it can also have negative impacts on wildlife and their habitats. Understanding those impacts and effectively mitigating them is a major goal of industry and resource managers. One species of particular concern is Agassiz’s desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Tortoises are declining throughout their range in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts and resource managers need information on how best to manage for healthy tortoise populations. Threats to their recovery include road mortality; habitat destruction, including from energy development; disease and predators; and climate change. I have been studying the ecology and behavior of a desert tortoise population in an operating wind farm since 1995. The wind farm was permitted and developed after 1983. The overarching focus of this research was to determine how desert tortoise ecology and behavior at the site differ from tortoise populations living in more natural environments.

Close-up of male tortoise
December 5, 2016

Agassiz’s desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) approach the southern edge of their mostly Mojave Desert range near Joshua Tree National Park. Modern desert tortoise research started in the Park in 1978 when the first tortoise population census was conducted on a one square mile area in the Pinto Basin known as the “Barrow Plot.” U.S. Geological Survey research began at the plot in 1997 and continued intermittently until 2012, providing important long-term data on variation in population size and survivorship of long-lived tortoises during a period of widely variable environmental conditions. As a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, resource managers need information on how best to manage for healthy tortoise populations. Other long-term research is focused on tortoise populations living near the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon in the Sonoran Desert portion of the Park. Research at Cottonwood examined the behavior, movements and reproductive ecology of tortoises using radio-telemetry and X-radiography. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service have a long history of collaboration on tortoise research at Joshua Tree National Park.

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A radio-tracked adult desert tortoise basks in the sun among the wind turbines at a wind energy facility
May 3, 2017

How a wind energy facility is designed can influence the behavior of animal predators and their prey, according to a recent study published in The Journal of Wildlife Management by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the U.S. Geological Survey.