We investigated the annual nesting ecology of a population of Desert Tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) inhabiting a utility-scale renewable energy (USRE) facility in southern California and compared our results with populations inhabiting relatively undisturbed sites. In 2000, 15 radio-tracked females produced 29 clutches, and 24 nests were monitored to examine nest-site selection, nest predation, hatching success, date of emergence of hatchlings, and hatchling mass and carapace length. Overall, the nesting ecology of the population inhabiting the USRE facility was very similar to other populations of Desert Tortoises inhabiting relatively undisturbed habitats. Oviposition occurred from 12 May to 8 July, which was similar to other sites. Nest depths (11.1 cm), nest predation (12%), hatchling emergence date (7 August and 29 September), and hatchling morphometrics (i.e., MCL: 44.5 mm; mass: 23 g) were all within ranges reported in other populations. Unlike within other populations, we observed no relationship between hatchling size and either maternal body size or egg width. We found no evidence of females selecting for a particular burrow for oviposition of eggs based on environmental or anthropogenic variables. Most nests were located in or near burrows, and nest depth was greater for nests near the entrance than those deeper in the burrow. Although this study suggests that the nesting ecology of the Desert Tortoise population we studied was not adversely affected by the USRE facility, this relationship is only correlative because our study was not a before-after-control-impact (BACI) study, which would establish a cause and effect relationship. As pointed out in a recent review, BACI studies are critically needed to address the wildlife impacts of utility-scale renewable energy development.
Additional publication details
Nesting ecology of a population of Gopherus agassizii at a utility-scale wind energy facility in southern California
The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists