Understanding Disease-Causing Pathogens Maximize Tortoise Survival

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In a recent study, published in the journal Herpetologica, researchers investigated how an upper respiratory tract disease (URTD) was affecting Mojave Tortoises. This is the first range-wide study to focus on the presence of the pathogen Mycoplasma agassizii.

Herpetologica Volume 73 Issue 2 June 2017

Agencies can use our analyses on relative frequency of this pathogen to develop strategies to maximize desert tortoise survival.

Herpetologica – The populations of many turtle species are currently in decline because their habitats are being altered. Conservationists are working tirelessly to help preserve natural areas and their indigenous populations while scientists further their understanding of the causes population decline. Among these causes that hinder the persistence of some species are disease-causing pathogens.

Researchers from the University of Nevada and Colorado State University recently published a study in the journal Herpetologica that investigated how an upper respiratory tract disease (URTD) was affecting Mojave Tortoises. Scientists had studied URTD as a threat to the species; however, this was the first range-wide study to focus on the presence of the pathogen Mycoplasma agassizii.

Between 2010 and 2012, 402 tortoises from 27 locations across California, Nevada and Utah were observed for clinical symptoms of URTD, and nasal lavage samples were collected. The appearance of clinical symptoms was analyzed individually from the nasal lavage.

The results of the study indicated that some areas had diseased tortoises, but little to no trace of the pathogen M. agassizii was detected. The study also determined that even in areas of high frequency for the pathogen, clinical symptoms did not readily appear. The researchers found this particularly important, because there is a clear lag time between disease contraction and disease onset.

Mycoplasma agassizii is believed to be present in most, or even all, tortoises, but the extent of the threat from the disease is undetermined. The researchers believe that gaining an understanding of how this pathogen relates to the development of URTD can be an important contributor towards a better understanding of how to increase the survival of Mojave Tortoises.

“The ecological importance of this upper respiratory disease is contentious, yet management practices should account for the potential negative effects on local populations,” said researcher Chava Wietzman. “Agencies can use our analyses on relative frequency of this pathogen to develop strategies to maximize desert tortoise survival.”

Full text of the article, “Prevalence and Diversity of the Upper Respiratory Pathogen Mycoplasma agassizii in Mojave Desert Tortoises (Gopherus agassizii),” Herpetologica, Vol. 73, No. 2, 2017, is now available at http://www.hljournals.org/doi/full/10.1655/Herpetologica-D-16-00079.1.

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About Herpetologica
Herpetologica is a quarterly journal of The Herpetologists’ League, containing original research articles on the biology of amphibians and reptiles. The journal serves herpetologists, biologists, ecologists, conservationists, researchers, and others interested in furthering knowledge of the biology of amphibians and reptiles. To learn more about the society, please visit http://www.herpetologistsleague.org.

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Brooke Winston
Allen Press
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