Distance sampling for Sonoran Desert tortoises

Journal of Wildlife Management
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We used line transects and distance sampling in combination with radiotelemetry to estimate density of a desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) population in the Rincon Mountains near Tucson, Arizona, USA, as part of a long-term study evaluating the impact of urban development on tortoises. During 2000, 34 1-km transects were each sampled twice in the 368.5-ha study area. We observed 46 tortoises with midline carapace lengths ???150 mm (subadults and adults) plus 7 juveniles on transects. For subadults and adults, the encounter rate was 0.63 tortoises/km, and the mean proportion of tortoises observable during radiotelemetry, conducted concurrently with transect sampling, was 82%. Corrected mean density based on line transects and radiotelemetry was 0.523 tortoises/ha (CV = 22.99, 95% CI = 0.29-0.79), and absolute abundance in the study area was estimated to be 193 (CV = 23.0%, CI = 107-291). Using the 2 independent coverages of transects as separate samples, the Lincoln-Petersen mark-recapture estimator produced an abundance estimate of 224 subadult and adult tortoises (CV = 53.9%, CI = 72-440). Transects measured on the ground over uneven topography resulted in 3% smaller estimates of density when compared to analysis with transect lengths determined from coordinates plotted on a map. Distance sampling appears to be a feasible method of estimating density of Sonoran Desert populations of the desert tortoise, but transect lengths should be based on mapped rather than measured distances to prevent biases caused by uneven topography.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Distance sampling for Sonoran Desert tortoises
Series title Journal of Wildlife Management
Volume 66
Issue 4
Year Published 2002
Language English
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Journal of Wildlife Management
First page 969
Last page 975