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Overview

Distribution

Range Description

Occurs restricted to a series of disjunct isolated basins collectively known as the Bolson de Mapimi of south-eastern Chihuahua, western Coahuila and northern Durango, Mexico (Aguirre in Groombridge 1982, Morafka et al. 1989, Iverson 1992).

The Bolson de Mapimi covers about 40,000 sq. km; the total geographic range of G. flavomarginatus measures about 150 km across, and the area of occupancy is about 7,000 sq. km (Morafka 1982, Morafka et al. 1989).
The past distribution of the species was much wider - Pleistocene fossils indicate occurrence as far away as south-western Arizona and Oklahoma, US, and Aguascalientes, Mexico (Morafka 1982, Morafka et al. 1989).
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Continent: Middle-America
Distribution: Mexico (Bolson de Mapimi, which borders on SE Chihuahua, SW Coahuila, and NE Durango)  
Type locality: "30 to 40 miles north from Lerdo, Durango, Mexico".
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Historic Range:
Mexico

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Physical Description

Type Information

Paratype for Gopherus flavomarginatus
Catalog Number: USNM 60976
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Amphibians & Reptiles
Sex/Stage: Sex unknown;
Preparation: Dry
Year Collected: 1918
Locality: No Further Locality Data, Durango, Mexico
  • Paratype: Legler, J. M. 1959. Univ. Kansas Publ., Mus. Nat. Hist. 11 (5): 337, plates 7-8, figure 1.
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Holotype for Gopherus flavomarginatus
Catalog Number: USNM 61253
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Amphibians & Reptiles
Sex/Stage: Sex unknown;
Preparation: Dry
Locality: Lerdo, 30 - 40 mi from, Durango, Mexico
  • Holotype: Legler, J. M. 1959. Univ. Kansas Publ., Mus. Nat. Hist. 11 (5): 337, plates 7-8, figure 1.
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Paratype for Gopherus flavomarginatus
Catalog Number: USNM 61254
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Amphibians & Reptiles
Sex/Stage: Sex unknown;
Preparation: Dry
Locality: Lerdo, 30 - 40 mi from, Durango, Mexico
  • Paratype: Legler, J. M. 1959. Univ. Kansas Publ., Mus. Nat. Hist. 11 (5): 337, plates 7-8, figure 1.
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Ecology

Habitat

Chihuahuan Desert Habitat

This taxon is found in the Chihuahuan Desert, which is one of the most biologically diverse arid regions on Earth. This ecoregion extends from within the United States south into Mexico. This desert is sheltered from the influence of other arid regions such as the Sonoran Desert by the large mountain ranges of the Sierra Madres. This isolation has allowed the evolution of many endemic species; most notable is the high number of endemic plants; in fact, there are a total of 653 vertebrate taxa recorded in the Chihuahuan Desert.  Moreover, this ecoregion also sustains some of the last extant populations of Mexican Prairie Dog, wild American Bison and Pronghorn Antelope.

The dominant plant species throughout the Chihuahuan Desert is Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata). Depending on diverse factors such as type of soil, altitude, and degree of slope, L. tridentata can occur in association with other species. More generally, an association between L. tridentata, American Tarbush (Flourensia cernua) and Viscid Acacia (Acacia neovernicosa) dominates the northernmost portion of the Chihuahuan Desert. The meridional portion is abundant in Yucca and Opuntia, and the southernmost portion is inhabited by Mexican Fire-barrel Cactus (Ferocactus pilosus) and Mojave Mound Cactus (Echinocereus polyacanthus). Herbaceous elements such as Gypsum Grama (Chondrosum ramosa), Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis) and Hairy Grama (Chondrosum hirsuta), among others, become dominant near the Sierra Madre Occidental. In western Coahuila State, Lecheguilla Agave (Agave lechuguilla), Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), Purple Prickly-pear (Opuntia macrocentra) and Rainbow Cactus (Echinocereus pectinatus) are the dominant vascular plants.

Because of its recent origin, few warm-blooded vertebrates are restricted to the Chihuahuan Desert scrub. However, the Chihuahuan Desert supports a large number of wide-ranging mammals, such as the Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana), Robust Cottontail (Sylvilagus robustus EN); Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus), Grey Fox (Unocyon cineroargentinus), Jaguar (Panthera onca), Collared Peccary or Javelina (Pecari tajacu), Desert Cottontail (Sylvilagus auduboni), Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus), Kangaroo Rats (Dipodomys sp.), pocket mice (Perognathus spp.), Woodrats (Neotoma spp.) and Deer Mice (Peromyscus spp). With only 24 individuals recorded in the state of Chihuahua Antilocapra americana is one of the most highly endangered taxa that inhabits this desert. The ecoregion also contains a small wild population of the highly endangered American Bison (Bison bison) and scattered populations of the highly endangered Mexican Prairie Dog (Cynomys mexicanus), as well as the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus).

The Chihuahuan Desert herpetofauna typifies this ecoregion.Several lizard species are centered in the Chihuahuan Desert, and include the Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum); Texas Banded Gecko (Coleonyx brevis), often found under rocks in limestone foothills; Reticulate Gecko (C. reticulatus); Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus); several species of spiny lizards (Scelopoprus spp.); and the Western Marbled Whiptail (Cnemidophorus tigris marmoratus). Two other whiptails, the New Mexico Whiptail (C. neomexicanus) and the Common Checkered Whiptail (C. tesselatus) occur as all-female parthenogenic clone populations in select disturbed habitats.

Representative snakes include the Trans-Pecos Rat Snake (Bogertophis subocularis), Texas Blackhead Snake (Tantilla atriceps), and Sr (Masticophis taeniatus) and Neotropical Whipsnake (M. flagellum lineatus). Endemic turtles include the Bolsón Tortoise (Gopherus flavomarginatus), Coahuilan Box Turtle (Terrapene coahuila) and several species of softshell turtles. Some reptiles and amphibians restricted to the Madrean sky island habitats include the Ridgenose Rattlesnake (Crotalus willardi), Twin-spotted Rattlesnake (C. pricei), Northern Cat-eyed Snake (Leptodeira septentrionalis), Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus jarrovii), and Canyon Spotted Whiptail (Cnemidophorus burti).

There are thirty anuran species occurring in the Chihuahuan Desert: Chiricahua Leopard Frog (Rana chircahuaensis); Red Spotted Toad (Anaxyrus punctatus); American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus); Canyon Treefrog (Hyla arenicolor); Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans); Rio Grande Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus cystignathoides); Cliff Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus marnockii); Spotted Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus guttilatus); Tarahumara Barking Frog (Craugastor tarahumaraensis); Mexican Treefrog (Smilisca baudinii); Madrean Treefrog (Hyla eximia); Montezuma Leopard Frog (Lithobates montezumae); Brown's Leopard Frog (Lithobates brownorum); Yavapai Leopard Frog (Lithobates yavapaiensis); Western Barking Frog (Craugastor augusti); Mexican Cascade Frog (Lithobates pustulosus); Lowland Burrowing Frog (Smilisca fodiens); New Mexico Spadefoot (Spea multiplicata); Plains Spadefoot (Spea bombifrons); Pine Toad (Incilius occidentalis); Woodhouse's Toad (Anaxyrus woodhousii); Couch's Spadefoot Toad (Scaphiopus couchii); Plateau Toad (Anaxyrus compactilis); Texas Toad (Anaxyrus speciosus); Dwarf Toad (Incilius canaliferus); Great Plains Narrowmouth Toad (Gastrophryne olivacea); Great Plains Toad (Anaxyrus cognatus); Eastern Green Toad (Anaxyrus debilis); Gulf Coast Toad (Incilius valliceps); and Longfoot Chirping Toad (Eleutherodactylus longipes VU). The sole salamander occurring in the Chihuahuan Desert is the Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum).

Common bird species include the Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus), Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia), Merlin (Falco columbarius), Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), and the rare Zone-tailed Hawk (Buteo albonotatus). Geococcyx californianus), Curve-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostra), Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamata), Scott’s Oriole (Icterus parisorum), Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata), Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens), Worthen’s Sparrow (Spizella wortheni), and Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus). In addition, numerous raptors inhabit the Chihuahuan Desert and include the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) and the Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi).

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Bolson Tortoises prefer low grade slopes (0.5% to 2%) of fine textured soil (averaging 48% sand, 32% silt, 10% clay, 10% gravel), vegetated by mixed sclerophyll shrub and desert bunch grass. These areas generally fringe basin floodplains. The area of occurrence is between 1,000 and 1,400 m altitude. (Morafka 1982, Morafka et al. 1989).

Bolson Tortoises dig burrows up to 8 m long and 2 m deep as refuge from predators and extremes of climatic and weather conditions, and surface activity is correlated with rainfall and temperature. Aguirre et al. (1989) calculated that adult Bolson Tortoises spend less than 1% of their entire lives on the surface, either basking or feeding along well-established trails near the burrow. Burrows are constructed in social aggregations, and clusters show social structuring of individuals. (Morafka 1982, Morafka et al. 1989). Radiotracked juveniles preferred to excavate (or opportunistically use) burrows under Opuntia cacti (Tom 1994).

Bolson Tortoises are exclusively herbivorous, feeding on a variety of grasses, shrubs and herbs (Morafka 1982, Morafka et al. 1989).

This is the largest North American tortoise species, approaching 40 cm CL (fossils indicate past size more than double this). Both sexes reach similar size. Sexual maturity probably occurs at CL over 25 cm and 15 to 20 years of age. Females outnumber males, at male/female ratios of 0.43 to 0.83 in different populations. Wild females produce 1 or 2 clutches (average 1.3) averaging 5.2 eggs; infertility rate averages 35%. Thus, an average female will produce only 3.4 offspring in an 8-year period of her reproductive period. With perhaps a survivorship of less than 5% to maturity, replacement time is over half a century.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Gopherus flavomarginatus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
VU
Vulnerable

Red List Criteria
A1cd

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2007

Assessor/s
van Dijk, P.P. & Flores-Villela, O.

Reviewer/s
Aguirre Leon, G., Iverson, J.B. & Rhodin, A.G.J. (Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Red List Authority)

Contributor/s

Justification
This species is listed as Vulnerable because it has experienced a population decline of up to 50% over the past 3 generations. It faced catastrophic levels of exploitation during the middle of the 20th century, with subsequent lower levels of exploitation. At present the species is protected from direct exploitation and part of its extent of occurrence is protected, but some subsistence collection and habitat degradation impacts likely still occur. With the worst impacts over, it is rated Vulnerable (under A1) rather than Endangered (under A2).

About six separate subpopulations exist, comprising some 7,000 to 10,000 adults, collectively occurring over about 7,000 sq. km.

Generation time is somewhere at 40 to 60 years. The species appears to have weathered its period of worst impacts and its slide into steep decline has been halted; the Bolson Tortoise is probably on the path to recovery due to intensive and sustained conservation efforts dating back to the 1970s, but remaining subpopulations apparently still suffer attrition from incidental take and habitat impacts. The population within the Mapimi Biosphere is recovering in recent years (Oscar Flores-Villela pers. comm. 2005), as a result of continued population protection since mid 1970s, and reserve expansion and law reinforcement through improved reserve administration by the Mexican Government since 2000. However, in the rest of the species' range protection is minimal or non existent (Aguirre Leon in litt. 10 Jan 2007).

History
  • 1996
    Vulnerable
  • 1994
    Endangered
    (Groombridge 1994)
  • 1990
    Endangered
    (IUCN 1990)
  • 1988
    Endangered
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
  • 1986
    Endangered
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
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Current Listing Status Summary

Status: Endangered
Date Listed: 05/17/1979
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10) 
Where Listed: Entire


Population detail:

Population location: Entire
Listing status: E

For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Gopherus flavomarginatus , see its USFWS Species Profile

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Population

Population
Populations are localized and disjunct. Three major populations sustain large reproducing populations, and three further minor populations exist. Total number of adults was estimated at a maximum of 7,000 to 10,000 in 1989. (Morafka et al. 1989).

Maximum known recent density is seven animals per hectare, but normal density is at the order of one animal per hectare. (Morafka 1982, Morafka et al. 1989).

Population Trend
Increasing
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Threats

Major Threats
The extreme reduction of the species' range in geological time has been attributed to a combination of climatic change, seismic activity eliminating whole populations by collapsing burrows, and overexploitation by paleoindians (Morafka et al. 1989).

In recent decades, Bolson Tortoises have been overexploited for food by local residents (particularly resettled people in ejidos) and particularly by railroad workers since the 1940s construction of railroads; tortoises were also collected and shipped by rail to coastal Pacific cities for gourmet consumption. Tortoises are now absent from a 10 km strip on either side of the railroad, and from the vicinity of roads. (Morafka 1982; Morafka et al. 1989).

Ongoing threats include habitat degradation and destruction by overgrazing, ploughing and irrigation, which have apparently contributed to the extirpation of large tortoise colonies through direct mortality and reduced juvenile survival and thus recruitment (Morafka et al. 1989).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
The species is protected under Mexican law and is included in CITES Appendix I. A substantial part of the southern area of occurrence of the species is effectively protected by the Mapimi Biosphere Reserve (3,424 sq. km., IUCN Category VI) in Durango; a substantial northern population is protected through cooperative agreement with Rancho Sombreretillo in Chihuahua (Trevino et al. 1997); and a number of ranches in the area afford private protection.

Research concerning the species have led to good understanding of the species' biology. Local awareness projects combined with enforcement of legal protection have had very positive local effects (Morafka et al. 1989). Some in situ and ex situ captive groups exist and some conservation breeding successes have occurred, and headstarted juveniles have been released (Morafka et al. 1989, Aguirre et al. 1997).

Reintroduction / relocation of the species into Big Bend NP (Texas, US) has been proposed (Aguirre et al. 1997) but has found little support with US authorities to date.

Further intensive in situ conservation action for the species is warranted, with ongoing public awareness and outreach and perhaps continuing operation of captive insurance colonies.
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Pleistocene Re-wilding

 

This species is one of a number which have been included in various “Pleistocene rewilding” plans. Pleistocene rewilding is the proposed practice of restoring ecosystems to their state in the Pleistocene, roughly 10,000 years ago. This contrasts the standard conservation benchmark, particularly in North America, of restoring ecosystems to their pre-Columbian or pre-industrial state. In both Eurasia and North America, the Pleistocene was characterized by much greater diversity and numbers of large herbivores and predators, including proboscidians, equids, camelids, and felidae (Donlan et al 2006; Zimov 2005). The process of restoration would involve the reintroduction of extant species in their historic range, as well as the introduction of ‘proxy organisms’ to replace the ecological functionality of extinct organisms (Donlan et al 2006). 

There are three central theoretical goals to Pleistocene rewilding. In Siberia, a team led by Sergey Zimov is investigating the role of large herbivores as ecosystem engineers. It is thought that herbivory pressure could play a central role in maintaining a grass-dominated plant community, as opposed to either tree- or moss-dominated. Grasslands are known to be more stable carbon sinks than either mossy or forested tundra, due to the rapidity of their biogeochemical cycling (Zimov 2005). In principle, then, reintroducing Pleistocene fauna could have positive climate change mitigation effects. Proposals in North America have focused instead on the preservation of ecological dynamics. Proponents of Pleistocene rewilding argue that due to the strong ecological interactions of megafauna, it is likely that their extinction at the end of the Pleistocene would have caused cascading ecological disruptions lasting until the present time (Donlan et al 2006). Additionally, introduction programs could provide a new lease on life for extant, endangered megafauna species, such as cheetahs and Asian elephants (Rubenstein 2006). 

Pleistocene rewilding, while headline-grabbing, is by no means the standard of modern conservation biology. There are a number of objections to the proposals of Pleistocene rewilders, summarized by Rubenstein et al (2006). The introduction of species which have been locally extinct for thousands of years, and more particularly the introduction of modern relatives of extinct species, carries many risks: the potential for invasive species, catastrophic disruption of existing ecosystems, inadvertent introduction of disease organisms, and unpredictable behavior of introduced species. Additionally, while paleoecology is a growing field, there is still a fair amount of uncertainty about the actual ecosystem functions of the Pleistocene.

Species which Zimov and his colleagues in Siberia are experimenting with bison, musk oxen, Przewalski’s horse, and Siberian tigers (Zimov 2005). Small-scale introductions have already begun in Yakutia. Donlan et al propose introducing Przewalski’s horse, Bolson tortoises, Bactrian camels, cheetahs, lions, and elephants into the Western United States (Donlan et al 2005). While some individuals of these species are present on privately owned land, there are no free-living populations in North America at this time. 

  • Donlan, CJ. 2005. Re-Wilding North America. Nature 436:913-914.
  • Donlan CJ, Berger J, Bock CE, Bock JH, Burney DA, Estes JA, Foreman D, Martin PS, Roemer GW, Smith FA, Soule ME, Greene HW. 2005. Pleistocene Rewilding: An Optimistic Agenda for Twenty-First Century Conservation. The American Naturalist 168:660-681.
  • Rubenstein DR, Rubenstein DI, Sherman PW, Gavin TA. 2006. Pleistocene Park: Does Rewilding North America Represent Sound Conservation for the 21st Century? Biological Conservation 132:232-238.
  • Zimov, SA. 2005. Pleistocene Park: Return of the Mammoth’s Ecosystem. Science 308:796-798.
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Wikipedia

Bolson tortoise

The Bolson tortoise (Gopherus flavomarginatus), also called the Mexican giant tortoise or Yellow-margined tortoise, is a species of tortoise from North America. Of the four North American tortoise species, it is the largest, having a carapace length of about 46 cm (18 in). It lives in a region of the Chihuahuan Desert known as the Bolsón de Mapimí, which is located in north-central Mexico.

Discovery[edit]

Mapimi Biosphere Reserve.jpg

The Bolson tortoise was discovered only in 1959. The legend is that a group of biologists working in the Bolsón de Mapimí were at a ranch and saw chickens eating out of a large tortoise shell. They inquired about the origin of the shell and the locals responded by saying that it was, “la tortuga grande del desierto,” the big turtle of the desert.

In 1979 the 340,000 hectare Mapimi Biosphere Reserve was created to protect the Bolson Tortoise and other unique flora and fauna of the Bolsón de Mapimí. Despite this designation, cattle ranching and mining still occur in the Reserve. Whether this is detrimental to the tortoise is not known.

Declining population[edit]

The most recent research, published in 1991 from data collected in 1983, estimates that fewer than 10,000 tortoises remain in the wild. Populations have declined mostly due to overcollecting for food and the pet trade. Incursion of roads, railroads and agricultural development have accelerated the decline of the species in the last 40 years. In the central portion of its range locals are keenly aware of the tortoise’s protected status and aid in its conservation. However, in the northeastern portion of its range, near La Sierra Mojada, populations of the tortoise are low. It is believed that tortoises are still collected and eaten in this area. Additionally, extensive brush clearing operations are being conducted to make way for cattle grazing. In 2008, following the construction of federally subsidized ethanol plants, extensive corn farming operations began within the Mapimi Biosphere Reserve. Farms have been tilled in tortoise habitat, despite its protected status.

Appleton tortoises[edit]

In the fall of 2006, 26 Bolson Tortoises were translocated from the Audubon Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch in Elgin, Arizona to Ted Turner’s Armendaris Ranch in south-central New Mexico, a Chihuahuan desert environment within the prehistoric range of this species. These tortoises, known as the Appleton tortoises in commemoration of Ariel Appleton, a champion of Bolson tortoise conservation, were originally brought to Arizona from Durango, Mexico by Dr. David Morafka in 1973. Four tortoises from the Appleton population were established at the Living Desert Museum in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Both locations have active breeding programs in place.

Rewilding[edit]

The Bolson Tortoise was recently brought to the world's attention when in August 2005 a provocative article on “Pleistocene rewilding” appeared in the journal Nature (Donlan, et al., 2005) proposing that megafauna that went extinct in North America at the close of the Pleistocene (~12,800 years ago) be reintroduced to the continent to create a Pleistocene Park. The Bolson tortoise was the first species proposed for this restoration effort. The tortoise is unique in that, unlike mammoths, sabre-toothed tigers and giant ground sloths, it is not extinct. The Turner Endangered Species Fund, who re-introduced the tortoise to New Mexico, has made it clear that the restoration of the tortoise to the Southwest is an endangered species recovery project and not a “rewilding” project, although elements of rewilding exist.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Fritz Uwe; Peter Havaš (2007). "Checklist of Chelonians of the World". Vertebrate Zoology 57 (2): 281. ISSN 18640-5755. Archived from the original on 2010-12-17. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
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