Local niche differences predict genotype associations in sister taxa of desert tortoise

Diversity and Distributions
By: , and 




To investigate spatial congruence between ecological niches and genotype in two allopatric species of desert tortoise that are species of conservation concern.


Mojave and Sonoran Desert ecoregions; California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, USA.


We compare ecological niches of Gopherus agassizii and Gopherus morafkai using species distribution modelling (SDM) and then calibrate a pooled‐taxa distribution model to explore local differences in species–environment relationships based on the spatial residuals of the pooled‐taxa model. We use multiscale geographically weighted regression (MGWR) applied to those residuals to estimate local species–environment relationships that can vary across the landscape. We identify multivariate clusters in these local species–environment relationships and compare them against models of (a) a geographically based taxonomic designation for two sister species and (b) an environmental ecoregion designation, with respect to their ability to predict a genotype association index for these two species.


We find non‐identical niches for these species, with differences that span physiographic and vegetation niche dimensions. We find evidence for two distinct clusters of local species–environment relationships that when mapped, predict an index of genotype association for the two sister taxa better than did either the geographically based taxonomic designation or an environmental ecoregion designation.

Main conclusions

Exploring local species–environment relationships by coupling SDM and MGWR can benefit studies of biogeography and conservation. We find that niche separation in habitat selection conforms to genotypic differences between sister taxa of tortoise in a recent secondary contact zone. This result may inform decision making by agencies with regulatory or land management authority for the two sister taxa addressed here.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Local niche differences predict genotype associations in sister taxa of desert tortoise
Series title Diversity and Distributions
DOI 10.1111/ddi.12927
Volume 25
Issue 8
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description 16 p.
First page 1194
Last page 1209
Country United States
State Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah
Other Geospatial Mojave Desert, Sonoran Desert
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