A range-wide model of contemporary, omnidirectional connectivity for the threatened Mojave desert tortoise

Miranda E. Gray, Brett G. Dickson, Kenneth E. Nussear, Todd C. Esque, Tony Chang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


As habitat destruction leads to species extinctions globally, conservation planning that accounts for population-level connectivity and gene flow is an urgent priority. Models that only approximate habitat potential are incomplete because areas of high habitat potential may be isolated, whereas intermixed areas of lower habitat potential may still be critical for maintaining connectivity between and among populations. We developed a range-wide, omnidirectional (coreless) connectivity model and map for the threatened Mojave desert tortoise at a high spatial resolution (30 m), based on empirical movement data and a circuit-theoretic approach to estimating connectivity. Specifically, we first estimated habitat potential (i.e., quality) for tortoise movement (as distinct from habitat potential more generally) across its range using hypotheses based on the published literature, linear mixed models, multiple environmental factors derived from remotely sensed data, and recent solar and wind development footprints. The resultant raster output was used to represent landscape conductance in a circuit-theoretic model of connectivity, which relates the flow of electrical current through a circuit to the movement of tortoises through the landscape. We then modeled potential connectivity across the range of the tortoise using Circuitscape software and the Julia numerical programming language. Intermediate distances from minor roads, intermediate values of annual average maximum temperature, and increasing density of desert washes were among the strongest predictors of movement habitat quality. There was also strong evidence for increased habitat quality for movement with increasing amounts of vegetation cover. The resulting connectivity model and map was determined to accurately reflect important areas for tortoise movement, but we encourage others to do their own evaluation of the model within local areas of interest and as more data become available. Accordingly, the map can provide an important component to improve management decisions that have the potential to influence the conservation of connected desert tortoise populations throughout the range.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02847
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019


  • Mojave desert tortoise
  • circuit theory
  • connectivity
  • conservation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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