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Computed tomography for measuring body fat reserves in threatened Mohave desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)

June 16, 2022

Noninvasive methods for measuring fat reserves in both captive and free-ranging animals are important for monitoring individual and population health, but chelonian anatomy and physiology present challenges to accurate measurements. Standard field-based methods for assessing body condition in Mojave desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) involve the qualitative body condition score, which relies on the apparent height of the temporalis muscle relative to the sagittal crest (in addition to other characteristics) and quantitative body condition indices that measure relative mass at size. However, it is unclear how these metrics relate to body fat reserves in this species. The aims of this study were to (1) describe the use of noninvasive computed tomography in measuring body fat volume of Mojave desert tortoises, (2) describe the location of fat reserves, (3) investigate relationships between fat reserves and body condition score and body condition index, and (4) explore whether relative temporalis muscle depth, measured via computed tomography, correlates with body condition score. Body condition scores were assessed for eight captive Mojave desert tortoises prior to euthanasia, and computed tomography was performed postmortem to quantify fat volume and measure temporalis muscle depth. At necropsy, the distribution of fat was documented. Fat volume calculated by computed tomography ranged from 2.83 to 145.38 cm3 (0.07–2.5% body volume). Neither qualitative body condition score nor quantitative body condition index was correlated with fat volume. Bladder content did not compromise body condition index. Body condition score was not correlated with relative temporalis muscle depth. Computed tomography is a noninvasive method for successfully identifying fat reserves and estimating total fat volume in Mojave desert tortoises. The lack of a relationship between computed tomography-determined metrics and commonly used body condition metrics indicates that computed tomography fills a critical gap in the health assessment tool kit for captive and free-ranging Mojave desert tortoises.

Publication Year 2022
Title Computed tomography for measuring body fat reserves in threatened Mohave desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
DOI 10.1638/2020-0168
Authors M A Walden, Rachel Jania, Matthew E Kinney, Anne Devan-Song, K. Kristina Drake, Todd C. Esque, Kevin T. Shoemaker
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine
Index ID 70241499
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center