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East Sahuarita, AZ, United States

Lovich J.E.,U.S. Geological Survey | Ennen J.R.,U.S. Geological Survey | Ennen J.R.,Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute | Yackulic C.B.,U.S. Geological Survey | And 8 more authors.
Biological Journal of the Linnean Society | Year: 2015

Bet-hedging theory makes the counter-intuitive prediction that, if juvenile survival is low and unpredictable, organisms should consistently reduce short-term reproductive output to minimize the risk of reproductive failure in the long-term. We investigated the long-term reproductive output of an Agassiz's desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) population and conformance to a bet-hedging strategy of reproduction in an unpredictable but comparatively productive environment. Most females reproduced every year, even during periods of low precipitation and poor germination of food plants, and the mean percentage of reproducing females did not differ significantly on an annual basis. Although mean annual egg production (clutch size×clutch frequency) differed significantly among years, mean clutch size and mean clutch frequency remained relatively constant. During an El Niño year, mean annual egg production and mean annual clutch frequency were the highest ever reported for this species. Annual egg production was positively influenced by maternal body size but clutch size and clutch frequency were not. Our long-term results confirm earlier conclusions based on short-term research that desert tortoises have a bet-hedging strategy of producing small clutches almost every year. The risk of long-term reproductive failure is minimized in unpredictable environments, both through time by annually producing multiple small clutches over a long reproductive lifespan, even in years of low resource availability, and through space by depositing multiple annual clutches in different locations. The extraordinary annual reproductive output of this population appears to be the result of a typically high but unpredictable biomass of annual food plants at the site relative to tortoise habitat in dryer regions. Under the comparatively productive but unpredictable conditions, tortoises conform to predictions of a bet-hedging strategy of reproduction with relatively small but consistent clutch sizes. Research Articles Research Article Published 2015.

Lovich J.E.,U.S. Geological Survey | Agha M.,U.S. Geological Survey | Agha M.,University of Kentucky | Agha M.,Trileaf Environmental Corporation | And 6 more authors.
California Fish and Game | Year: 2014

Nest site selection has important consequences for maternal and offspring survival and fitness. Females of some species return to the same nesting areas year after year. We studied nest site characteristics, fidelity, and daily pre-nesting movements in a population of Agassiz's desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) at a wind energy facility in southern California during two field seasons separated by over a decade. No females returned to the same exact nest site within or between years but several nested in the same general area. However, distances between first and second clutches within a year (2000) were not significantly different from distances between nests among years (2000 and 2011) for a small sample of females, suggesting some degree of fidelity within their normal activity areas. Environmental attributes of nest sites did not differ significantly among females but did among years due largely to changes in perennial plant structure as a result of multiple fires. Daily pre-nesting distances moved by females decreased consistently from the time shelled eggs were first visible in X-radiographs until oviposition, again suggesting some degree of nest site selection. Tortoises appear to select nest sites that are within their long-term activity areas, inside the climate-moderated confines of one of their self-constructed burrows, and specifically, at a depth in the burrow that minimizes exposure of eggs and embryos to lethal incubation temperatures. Nesting in "climate-controlled" burrows and nest guarding by females relaxes some of the constraints that drive nest site selection in other oviparous species. © 2014 California Fish and Game.

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