Road Warriors: Citizen Scientist Monitoring for Mojave Desert Tortoise Road Mortality

Florence Deffner, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Jennifer Wilkening, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Topic Area
Partnerships and Collaborative Approaches for Improving Transportation Ecology

Transportation infrastructure has fragmented previously contiguous habitat and reduced connectivity among populations. Tortoise road mortality has been identified as a significant issue relative to recovery of this species, and restricted movement of desert tortoises may limit or entirely prohibit access to suitable habitat, resources, and mates on either side of existing roads and highways. Therefore, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has identified installation of permanent tortoise exclusion fencing and undercrossings along roads as a significant priority for desert tortoise recovery. Data regarding road mortality throughout the range of the tortoise are necessary to evaluate effects to recovery of the species and to prioritize areas for installation of fencing. Citizen scientist volunteers have proven to be a cost-effective and informative resource for collecting data to inform conservation and management of wildlife and landscapes. We used citizen scientist volunteers trained and supervised by qualified biologists to conduct systematic road surveys to document tortoise mortalities and presence on, or near roads in areas where permanent desert tortoise exclusion fencing has not been installed. Volunteers documented observations of tortoise road mortality, live tortoise encounters, carcasses, tortoise burrows, and tortoise sign on or near roads. Photos, GPS location, and condition of carcass or live tortoise were recorded and submitted for review. The citizen scientist volunteers also collected data regarding road mortality of other species observed during surveys, and were trained to collect samples for genetic studies from all observed mortalities for submission to the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) for their monitoring programs and genetic databases. Species mortality data collected during road surveys conducted prior to and after installation of desert tortoise fencing will provide information regarding potential benefits to other species monitored by the NDOW. The volunteers were also trained to inspect existing tortoise fencing to assist the state transportation agency with their backlog of maintenance. The use of citizen scientists helps increase public awareness, outreach, and education and increase the level of participation in conservation by the general public.

Abstract Keywords
tortoise survey citizen