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Using movement to inform conservation corridor design for Mojave desert tortoise

October 6, 2020

Background

Preserving corridors for movement and gene flow among populations can assist in the recovery of threatened and endangered species. As human activity continues to fragment habitats, characterizing natural corridors is important in establishing and maintaining connectivity corridors within the anthropogenic development matrix. The Mojave desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) is a threatened species occupying a variety of habitats in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. Desert tortoises have been referred to as corridor-dwellers, and understanding how they move within suitable habitat can be crucial to defining corridors that will sustain sufficient gene flow to maintain connections among populations amidst the increases in human development.

Methods

To elucidate how tortoises traverse available habitat and interact with potentially inhospitable terrain and human infrastructure, we used GPS dataloggers to document fine-scale movement of individuals and estimate home ranges at ten study sites along the California/Nevada border. Our sites encompass a variety of habitats, including mountain passes that serve as important natural corridors connecting neighboring valleys, and are impacted by a variety of linear anthropogenic features. We used path selection functions to quantify tortoise movements and develop resistance surfaces based on landscape characteristics including natural features, anthropogenic alterations, and estimated home ranges with autocorrelated kernel density methods. Using the best supported path selection models and estimated home ranges, we determined characteristics of known natural corridors and compared them to mitigation corridors (remnant habitat patches) that have been integrated into land management decisions in the Ivanpah Valley.

Results

Tortoises avoided areas of high slope and low perennial vegetation cover, avoided moving near low-density roads, and traveled along linear barriers (fences and flood control berms).

Conclusions

We found that mitigation corridors designated between solar facilities should be wide enough to retain home ranges and maintain function. Differences in home range size and movement resistance between our two natural mountain pass corridors align with differences in genetic connectivity, suggesting that not all natural corridors provide the same functionality. Furthermore, creation of mitigation corridors with fences may have unintended consequences and may function differently than natural corridors. Understanding characteristics of corridors with different functionality will help future managers ensure that connectivity is maintained among Mojave desert tortoise populations.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2020
Title Using movement to inform conservation corridor design for Mojave desert tortoise
DOI 10.1186/s40462-020-00224-8
Authors Steven J. Hromada, Todd C. Esque, Amy G. Vandergast, Kirsten E. Dutcher, Corey I Mitchell, Miranda E Gray, Tony Chang, Brett G. Dickson, Kenneth E. Nussear
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Movement Ecology
Series Number
Index ID 70216497
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center