Madison, WI, United States
Madison, WI, United States

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Lovich J.E.,U.S. Geological Survey | Ennen J.R.,U.S. Geological Survey | Ennen J.R.,Maryville College | Madrak S.,San Diego State University | And 6 more authors.
Herpetological Conservation and Biology | Year: 2011

We studied a Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) population at a large wind energy generation facility near Palm Springs, California over six field seasons from 1997 to 2010. We compared growth and demographic parameters to populations living in less disturbed areas; as well as populations of the closely-related and newly-described G. morafkai elsewhere in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. We marked 69 individuals of all size classes and estimated a population size of 96 tortoises, or about 15.4/km 2. Growth rates for males were lower than reported elsewhere, although maximum body size was larger. The smallest female with shelled eggs was 221 mm and males mature at over 200 mm. Mean male size was greater than that of females. The adult sex ratio was not significantly different from unity. Size frequency histograms were similar over time and when compared to most, but not all, G. morafkai populations in the Sonoran Desert. For a cohort of adult females, we estimated mortality at 8.4% annually due, in part, to site operations. This value was low in comparison to many other populations during the same time period. Other than possible differences in growth rate of males and the high survivorship of females, there appear to be few differences between this population and those in more natural areas. The high productivity of food plants at the site and its limited public access may contribute to the overall stability of the population. However, the effects of utility-scale renewable energy development on tortoises in other, less productive, areas are unknown. Additional research (especially controlled and replicated before and after studies) is urgently needed to address this deficiency because of forecasted expansion of utility-scale renewable energy development in the future. © 2011. Stephen De Lisle. All Rights Reserved.

Lovich J.E.,U.S. Geological Survey | Ennen J.R.,U.S. Geological Survey | Ennen J.R.,Maryville College | Madrak S.V.,San Diego State University | And 4 more authors.
Fire Ecology | Year: 2011

We studied the long-term response of a cohort of eight female Agassiz's desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) during the first 15 years following a large fire at a wind energy generation facility near Palm Springs, California, USA. The fire burned a significant portion of the study site in 1995. Tortoise activity areas were mapped using minimum convex polygons for a proximate post-fire interval from 1997 to 2000, and a long-term post-fire interval from 2009 to 2010. In addition, we measured the annual reproductive output of eggs each year and monitored the body condition of tortoises over time. One adult female tortoise was killed by the fire and five tortoises bore exposure scars that were not fatal. Despite predictions that tortoises would make the short-distance movements from burned to nearby unburned habitats, most activity areas and their centroids remained in burned areas for the duration of the study. The percentage of activity area burned did not differ significantly between the two monitoring periods. Annual reproductive output and measures of body condition remained statistically similar throughout the monitoring period. Despite changes in plant composition, conditions at this site appeared to be suitable for survival of tortoises following a major fire. High productivity at the site may have buffered tortoises from the adverse impacts of fire if they were not killed outright. Tortoise populations at less productive desert sites may not have adequate resources to sustain normal activity areas, reproductive output, and body conditions following fire.

Ennen J.R.,U.S. Geological Survey | Ennen J.R.,Maryville College | Lovich J.E.,U.S. Geological Survey | Meyer K.P.,U.S. Department of Agriculture | And 2 more authors.
Copeia | Year: 2012

We investigated the annual nesting ecology of a population of Desert Tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) inhabiting a utility-scale renewable energy (USRE) facility in southern California and compared our results with populations inhabiting relatively undisturbed sites. In 2000, 15 radio-tracked females produced 29 clutches, and 24 nests were monitored to examine nest-site selection, nest predation, hatching success, date of emergence of hatchlings, and hatchling mass and carapace length. Overall, the nesting ecology of the population inhabiting the USRE facility was very similar to other populations of Desert Tortoises inhabiting relatively undisturbed habitats. Oviposition occurred from 12 May to 8 July, which was similar to other sites. Nest depths (11.1 cm), nest predation (12), hatchling emergence date (7 August and 29 September), and hatchling morphometrics (i.e., MCL: 44.5 mm; mass: 23 g) were all within ranges reported in other populations. Unlike within other populations, we observed no relationship between hatchling size and either maternal body size or egg width. We found no evidence of females selecting for a particular burrow for oviposition of eggs based on environmental or anthropogenic variables. Most nests were located in or near burrows, and nest depth was greater for nests near the entrance than those deeper in the burrow. Although this study suggests that the nesting ecology of the Desert Tortoise population we studied was not adversely affected by the USRE facility, this relationship is only correlative because our study was not a before-after-control-impact (BACI) study, which would establish a cause and effect relationship. As pointed out in a recent review, BACI studies are critically needed to address the wildlife impacts of utility-scale renewable energy development. © 2012 by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists.

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