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Endangered Species Research

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ESR 28:109-116 (2015)  -  DOI:

Severe mortality of a population of threatened Agassiz’s desert tortoises: the American badger as a potential predator

Patrick G. Emblidge1,2,*, Ken E. Nussear3, Todd C. Esque2, Christina M. Aiello1,2, Andrew D. Walde4

1Department of Biology, 208 Mueller Laboratory, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA
2U.S. Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research Center, Las Vegas Field Station, 160 N. Stephanie Street, Henderson, NV 89074, USA
3Department of Geography, University of Nevada, 1664 N. Virginia Street, Reno, NV 89557, USA
4Walde Research & Environmental Consulting, 8000 San Gregorio Road, Atascadero, CA 93422, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: In the Mojave Desert of the southwestern United States, adult Agassiz’s desert tortoises Gopherus agassizii typically experience high survival, but population declines associated with anthropogenic impacts led to their listing as a threatened Species under the US Endangered Species Act in 1990. Predation of adult tortoises is not often considered a significant threat as they are adapted to deter most predation attempts. Despite these adaptations, some populations have experienced elevated mortality attributed to predators, suggesting that predation pressure may occasionally increase. During the tortoise activity seasons of 2012 and 2013, we observed unsustainably high mortality in 1 of 4 populations of adult desert tortoises (22 and 84%, respectively) in the western Mojave Desert in the vicinity of Barstow, CA. Photographic evidence from trail cameras and examination of carcass condition suggest that American badgers Taxidea taxus—a sometimes cited but unconfirmed predator of adult tortoises—may have been responsible for some of the mortality observed. We discuss the American badger as a plausible predator of a local tortoise population, but recommend further investigation into these events and the impacts such mortality can have on tortoise persistence.

KEY WORDS: Desert tortoise · Predation · American badger · Native predator

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Cite this article as: Emblidge PG, Nussear KE, Esque TC, Aiello CM, Walde AD (2015) Severe mortality of a population of threatened Agassiz’s desert tortoises: the American badger as a potential predator. Endang Species Res 28:109-116.

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