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Sexual and environmental variation in the space requirements of the Critically Endangered geometric tortoise, Psammobates geometricus

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Psammobates geometricus has a limited distribution in the southwestern Cape, South Africa, where it occurs in small habitat fragments separated by agricultural and urban developments. Space use and its determining factors thus represent critical information for the effective conservation of this species. We used radiotelemetry and thread-trailing to study the movement patterns and space use of geometric tortoises over an annual cycle, and estimated home ranges with minimum convex polygons and fixed-kernel methods. Home range size of geometric tortoises showed large inter-individual variation, and for females, a positive relationship to body size. Females, the larger sex, had larger home ranges and mean daily displacements than males had. Female space use was high through most of the year, except in the wet season, when food was abundant, temperatures relatively low, and soft soils allowed easy nesting. Males used more space and displaced further in the non-nesting than nesting season, perhaps to optimise mating opportunities in the non-nesting season before females ovulate. Home ranges were more elongate and overlapped more in fallow fields than in natural vegetation, suggesting that habitat degradation alters home range structure. The space geometric tortoises used for their annual activities ranged from 1.02 to 44.85 ha. The large home ranges and effects of habitat degradation should influence the size of reserves, and the destiny of geometric tortoises in small habitat fragments.

Affiliations: 1: 1Chelonian Biodiversity and Conservation – Southern Africa, Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, University of the Western Cape, Private Bag X17, Bellville 7535, South Africa; 2: 4Biology Department, Adrian College, 110 S. Madison Street, Adrian, Michigan 49221, USA


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