The dominance of introduced plant species in the diets of migratory Galapagos tortoises increases with elevation on a human-occupied island

Biotropica
By: , and 

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Abstract

The distribution of resources and food selection are fundamental to the ecology, life history, physiology, population dynamics, and conservation of animals. Introduced plants are changing foraging dynamics of herbivores in many ecosystems often with unknown consequences. Galapagos tortoises, like many herbivores, undertake migrations along elevation gradients driven by variability in vegetation productivity which take them into upland areas dominated by introduced plants. We sought to characterize diet composition of two species of Galapagos tortoises, focussing on how the role of introduced forage species changes over space and the implications for tortoise conservation. We quantified the distribution of tortoises with elevation using GPS telemetry. Along the elevation gradient, we quantified the abundance of introduced and native plant species, estimated diet composition by recording foods consumed by tortoises, and assessed tortoise physical condition from body weights and blood parameter values. Tortoises ranged between 0 and 429 m in elevation over which they consumed at least 64 plant species from 26 families, 44 percent of which were introduced species. Cover of introduced species and the proportion of introduced species in tortoise diets increased with elevation. Introduced species were positively selected for by tortoises at all elevations. Tortoise physical condition was either consistent or increased with elevation at the least biologically productive season on Galapagos. Santa Cruz tortoises are generalist herbivores that have adapted their feeding behavior to consume many introduced plant species that has likely made a positive contribution to tortoise nutrition. Some transformed habitats that contain an abundance of introduced forage species are compatible with tortoise conservation.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The dominance of introduced plant species in the diets of migratory Galapagos tortoises increases with elevation on a human-occupied island
Series title Biotropica
DOI 10.1111/btp.12195
Volume 47
Issue 2
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
Contributing office(s) Southwest Biological Science Center
Description 13 p.
First page 246
Last page 258
Country Ecuador
Other Geospatial Galapagos Islands
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N