Abstract

We surveyed an area of ∼260 km2 in the western Mojave Desert to evaluate relationships between condition of Agassiz's Desert Tortoise populations (Gopherus agassizii) and habitat on lands that have experienced three different levels of management and protection. We established 240 1-ha plots using random sampling, with 80 plots on each of the three types of managed lands. We conducted surveys in spring 2011 and collected data on live tortoises, shell-skeletal remains, other signs of tortoises, perennial vegetation, predators, and evidence of human use. Throughout the study area and regardless of management area, tortoise abundance was positively associated with one of the more diverse associations of perennial vegetation. The management area with the longest history of protection, a fence, and legal exclusion of livestock and vehicles had significantly more live tortoises and lower death rates than the other two areas. Tortoise presence and abundance in this protected area had no significant positive or negative associations with predators or human-related impacts. In contrast, the management area with a more recent exclusion of livestock, limited vehicular traffic, and with a recent, partial fence had lower tortoise densities and high death rates. Tortoise abundance here was negatively associated with vehicle tracks and positively associated with mammalian predators and debris from firearms. The management area with the least protection—unfenced, with uncontrolled vehicle use, sheep grazing, and high trash counts—also had low tortoise densities and high death rates. Tortoise abundance was negatively associated with sheep grazing and positively associated with trash and mammalian predator scat.

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