Does translocation influence physiological stress in the desert tortoise?



K. Kristina Drake, Western Ecological Research Center, U.S Geological Survey, 160 North Stephanie Street, Henderson, NV 89074, USA.

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Wildlife translocation is increasingly used to mitigate disturbances to animals or habitat due to human activities, yet little is known about the extent to which translocating animals causes stress. To understand the relationship between physiological stress and translocation, we conducted a multiyear study (2007–2009) using a population of desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) near Fort Irwin, California. Blood samples were collected from adult tortoises in three treatment groups (resident, translocated and control) for 1 year prior to and 2 years after translocation. Samples were analyzed by radioimmunoassay for plasma total corticosterone (CORT), a glucocorticoid hormone commonly associated with stress responses in reptiles. CORT values were analyzed in relation to potential covariates (animal sex, date, behavior, treatment, handling time, air temperature, home-range size, precipitation and annual plant production) among seasons and years. CORT values in males were higher than in females, and values for both varied monthly throughout the activity season and among years. Year and sex were strong predictors of CORT, and translocation explained little in terms of CORT. Based on these results, we conclude that translocation does not elicit a physiological stress response in desert tortoises.