Data from: Habitat drives dispersal and survival of translocated juvenile desert tortoises
Nafus, Melia G. et al. (2017), Data from: Habitat drives dispersal and survival of translocated juvenile desert tortoises, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.ds8j3
In spite of growing reliance on translocations in wildlife conservation, translocation efficacy remains inconsistent. One factor that can contribute to failed translocations is releasing animals into poor-quality or otherwise inadequate habitat. Here, we used a targeted approach to test the relationship of habitat features to post-translocation dispersal and survival of juvenile Mojave desert tortoises Gopherus agassizii. We selected three habitat characteristics – rodent burrows, substrate texture (prevalence and size of rocks) and washes (ephemeral river beds) – that are tied to desert tortoise ecology. At the point of release, we documented rodent burrow abundance, substrate texture and wash presence and analysed their relationship to the maximum dispersal. We also documented the relative use by each individual for each habitat characteristic and analysed their relationships with survival and fatal encounters with a predator in the first year after release. In general, the presence of refugia or other areas that enabled animals to avoid detection, such as burrows and substrate, decreased the overall mortality as well as predator-mediated mortality. The presence of washes and substrate that enhanced the tortoises’ ability to avoid detection also associated with the reduced dispersal away from the release site. These results indicate an important role for all three measured habitat characteristics in driving dispersal, survival or fatal encounters with a predator in the first year after translocation. Synthesis and applications. Resource managers using translocations as a conservation tool should prioritize acquiring data linking habitat to fitness. In particular, for species that depend on avoiding detection, refuges such as burrows and habitat that improved concealment had notable ability to improve the survival and dispersal. Our study on juvenile Mojave desert tortoises showed that refuge availability or the distributions of habitat appropriate for concealment are important considerations for identifying translocation sites for species highly dependent on crypsis, camouflage or other forms of habitat matching.