In the 1994 Recovery Plan for the Mojave population of the desert tortoise, Gopherus agassizii, the US Fish and Wildlife Service established 6 recovery units by using the best available data on habitat use, behavior, morphology, and genetics. To further assess the validity of the recovery units, we analyzed genetic data by using mitochondrial deoxyribonucleic acid (mtDNA) sequences and nuclear DNA microsatellites. In total, 125 desert tortoises were sampled for mtDNA and 628 for microsatellites from 31 study sites, representing all recovery units and desert regions throughout the Mojave Desert in California and Utah, and the Colorado Desert of California. The mtDNA revealed a great divergence between the Mojave populations west of the Colorado River and those occurring east of the river in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. Some divergence also occurred between northern and southern populations within the Mojave population. The microsatellites indicated a low frequency of private alleles and a significant correlation between genetic and geographic distance among 31 sample sites, which was consistent with an isolation-by-distance population structure. Regional genetic differentiation was complementary to the recovery units in the Recovery Plan. Most allelic frequencies in the recovery units differed. An assignment test correctly placed most individuals to their recovery unit of origin. Of the 6 recovery units, the Northeastern and the Upper Virgin River units showed the greatest differentiation; these units may have been relatively more isolated than other areas and should be managed accordingly. The Western Mojave Recovery Unit, by using the new genetic data, was redefined along regional boundaries into the Western Mojave, Central Mojave, and Southern Mojave recovery units. Large-scale translocations of tortoises and habitat disturbance throughout the 20th century may have contributed to the observed patterns of regional similarity.
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Vol. 6 • No. 2