Modeling Population Viability for the Desert Tortoise in the Western Mojave Desert Journal Article uri icon



  • The desert tortoise is a threatened species living in the deserts of the American Southwest. Using size—structured demographic models, we analyzed the status of the tortoise in the Western Mojave desert and evaluated the effectiveness of possible management measures. Our demographic analyses agree with the trends reported by field censuses in showing rapid population decline. Importantly, simulations that include variation and correlation in vital rates yield highly variable forecasts of population growth, indicating the uncertainties inherent in even short—term projections of tortoise population sizes. To determine where conservation efforts and data collection should be focused, we performed a series of sensitivity analyses in which the effects of changing different vital rates were quantified. We found that the rate of population growth is most sensitive to the survival of large adult females and that improving survival of this size class to reputably "pristine" rates could reverse population declines; in contrast, large improvements in other vital rates will not, alone, reverse population decline. Thus, shooting, off—road vehicles, upper respiratory tract disease (URTD), and other major sources of adult mortality should be the primary focus of management strategies. Finally, we discuss the impact of the proposed expansion of the U.S. Army's Fort Irwin, which would reduce the Western Mojave tortoise population by ≤13%. We argue that the expansion could have a grave impact on the long—term population viability of the tortoise, but that this impact will be a function of the management of remaining tortoise habitat. We conclude that, although many anthropogenic impacts threaten the tortoise, the species' future could be bright, provided that research and land—use planning focus on biologically important aspects of its life history.

publication date

  • August 1, 1994

has restriction

  • closed

Date in CU Experts

  • November 6, 2014 12:42 PM

Full Author List

  • Doak D; Kareiva P; Klepetka B

author count

  • 3

Other Profiles

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1051-0761

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1939-5582

Additional Document Info

start page

  • 446

end page

  • 460


  • 4


  • 3