Under recent regulatory designation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) occurring east and south of the Colorado River constitute the Sonoran population, whereas those to the west and north form the Mojave population. These management units, distinguished by significant genetic, morphometric, and ecological differences, represent deep phylogenetic subdivisions within G. agassizii and are of high conservation value. We provide genetic and morphological profiles for an unusual tortoise population inhabiting the Black Mountains of Arizona, some 40 km east of the Colorado River. Both mitochondrial (mt) DNA and morphometric analyses revealed predominately Mojavean features: ten of eleven Black Mountain tortoises possessed Mojave mtDNA markers, and 24 of 37 animals exhibited Mojave morphometric phenotypes. Our results indicate west-to-east movement of tortoises across the Colorado River, though how or when a Mojave lineage became established in the Black Mountains is difficult to ascertain. Active dispersal, river meander, and human transport (early or modern peoples) serve as plausible explanations. Future management of the Black Mountain tortoises should emphasize the population's Mojavean affinities.
Additional publication details
Genetic and morphometric assessment of an unusual tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) population in the Black Mountains of Arizona