Dataset and code for "Unexpected effect of geographic origin on post-translocation survival in a long-lived reptile"
Data include release and mortality information for 2,822 gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) translocated to Nokuse, a private reserve in the panhandle of Florida.
Mitigation translocations move wildlife from specific areas due to conflict with humans over land use at the site. A critical decision when carrying out mitigation translocation is the acceptable distance across which animals can be moved. This decision trades off logistical expediency of unrestricted translocation with the risk of reducing translocation success due to environmental mismatch between origin and translocation site conditions. In this study, we used a large dataset of 502 individually identifiable carcasses to examine the role of geographic origin and translocation distance in the relative survival of 2,822 translocated subadult and adult gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus), a species experiencing large-scale mitigation translocation, at a recipient site in the Florida panhandle, USA. We hypothesized that if climate or habitat differences between the origin and translocation site influenced survival, tortoises translocated from within the Florida panhandle would have the highest survival. To the contrary, we found that survival slightly increased with increasing climatic difference between origin and recipient site, driven by higher survival of tortoises coming from central Florida sites compared to those from the panhandle and north Florida. This suggests that environmental mismatch due to long-distance translocation is not a main driver of mortality. These models also indicated an effect of season, with a survival advantage to tortoises translocated in the spring and late fall, relative to summer translocations, and a negative effect of initial density on survival. Finally, we also estimated the upper bound on annual survival in three well-monitored groups to be quite low (92-95%) for several years following release, suggesting caution when considering large translocated populations to be viable without first assessing adult survival. Our unexpected results highlight the importance of investigating species-specific sensitivities to translocation distances and indicate the limitations of assumed linear effects of translocation distance on outcomes.