Desert tortoises in the Mojave and Colorado deserts

By:  and 
Edited by: Edward T. LaRoeGaye S. FarrisCatherine E. PuckettPeter D. Doran, and Michael J. Mac



The desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) is a widespread species of the southwestern United States and Mexico. Within the United States, desert tortoises live in the Mojave, Colorado, and Sonoran deserts of southeastern California, southern Nevada, southwestern Utah, and western Arizona (Fig. 1). A substantial portion of the habitat is on lands administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The U.S. government treats the desert tortoise as an indicator or umbrella species to measure the health and well-being of the ecosystems it inhabits. The tortoise functions well as an indicator because it is long-lived, takes 12-20 years to reach reproductive maturity, and is sensitive to changes in the environment. In 1990 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the species as threatened in the northern and western parts of its geographic range (Fig. 1) because of widespread population declines and overall habitat loss, deterioration, and fragmentation.

Because some populations exhibit significant genetic, morphologic (see glossary), and behavioral differences, the Desert Tortoise Recovery Team identified six distinctive population segments (Fig. 1) for critical habitat protection and long-term conservation within the Mojave and Colorado deserts (e.g., Lamb et al. 1989; USFWS 1994). The population segments are representative of distinctive climatic, floristic, and geographic regions.

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Desert tortoises in the Mojave and Colorado deserts
Year Published 1995
Language English
Publisher National Biological Service
Publisher location Washington, D.C.
Description 3 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Monograph
Larger Work Title Our living resources: A report to the nation on the distribution, abundance, and health of U.S. plants, animals, and ecosystems
First page 135
Last page 137
Country United States
State Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details