The Desert Tortoise is the main reason why the USGS hired us as interns this summer. It is an endangered species that inhabits the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts. Tortoise populations have declined dramatically in recent years, partly due to loss of foraging habitat, caused by invasive grass takeover. Bromus madritensis is a non-native grass that has been reducing the native grass and shrub biomass that the tortoises depend on. B. madritensis takes over after wildfires (which were rare prior to B. madritensis invasion), and out-competes the slower growing natives. Conservationists, and hopefully the general public, are very concerned for the Desert Tortoise, which is where we come in! Three other interns and I are part of a research team that is investigating how to deal with B. madritensis by collecting and analyzing results of different desert shrub land restoration techniques. Since starting these post-fire monitoring projects two months ago, we had yet to actually encounter the reptile that we are working to protect, until now!
I give you the Desert Tortoise:
We came upon it as we were driving out to our sites last week. It seemed to be enjoying the morning cool sunrise while foraging for food. After we stopped for a few pictures, we continued on our way to begin our post-fire tortoise habitat monitoring for the week. I try to keep the image of the tortoise in the back of my head so that I can remember the big picture for this project. Hopefully this research can lead to successful restoration techniques that will make it more likely that future interns will come across a tortoise, sooner than two months into the program!