Habitat drives dispersal and survival of translocated juvenile desert tortoises

Journal of Applied Ecology
By: , and 

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Abstract

1.In spite of growing reliance on translocations in wildlife conservation, translocation efficacy remains inconsistent. One factor that can contribute to failed translocations is releasing animals into poor quality or otherwise inadequate habitat.

2.Here we used a targeted approach to test the relationship of habitat features to post-translocation dispersal and survival of juvenile Mojave desert tortoises Gopherus agassizii.

3.We selected three habitat characteristics—rodent burrows, substrate texture (prevalence and size of rocks), and washes (ephemeral river beds)–that are tied to desert tortoise ecology. At the point of release, we documented rodent burrow abundance, substrate texture, and wash presence and analysed their relationship to maximum dispersal. We also documented relative use by each individual for each habitat characteristic and analysed their relationships with survival and fatal encounters with a predator in the first year after release.

4.In general, the presence of refugia or other areas that enabled animals to avoid detection, such as burrows and substrate, decreased overall mortality as well as predator-mediated mortality. The presence of washes and substrate that enhanced the tortoises’ ability to avoid detection also associated with reduced dispersal away from the release site. These results indicate an important role for all three measured habitat characteristics in driving dispersal, survival, or fatal encounters with a predator in the first year after translocation.

5.Synthesis and applications. Resource managers using translocations as a conservation tool should prioritize acquiring data linking habitat to fitness. In particular, for species that depend on avoiding detection, refuges such as burrows and habitat that improved concealment had notable ability to improve survival and dispersal. Our study on juvenile Mojave desert tortoises showed that refuge availability or the distributions of habitat appropriate for concealment are important considerations for identifying translocation sites for species highly dependent on crypsis, camouflage, or other forms of habitat matching.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Habitat drives dispersal and survival of translocated juvenile desert tortoises
Series title Journal of Applied Ecology
DOI 10.1111/1365-2664.12774
Volume 54
Issue 2
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description 9 p.
First page 430
Last page 438
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N