Regression-tree modeling of desert tortoise habitat in the central Mojave Desert

Mark C. Andersen, Joseph M. Watts, Jerome E. Freilich, Stephen R. Yool, Gery I. Wakefield, John F. McCauley, Peter B. Fahnestock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


This paper describes an interdisciplinary study of the habitat requirements of threatened desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) on eight 225-ha study plots in a 14 000 ha study area near the southern boundary of the U.S. Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin in the central Mojave Desert of southern California. The objective of the study was to produce an empirical, statistical, GIS-based model of desert tortoise habitat use based on a combination of field data and data derived from various spatial databases, including satellite imagery. A total of 11 primary and secondary data layers constitute the spatial database used for this project. Vegetation and tortoise relative density data were obtained from field surveys. Regression-tree methods were used to develop the statistical model. The tree has 11 terminal nodes and a residual mean deviance of 1.985. Out of 73 potential predictors in the model specification, only eight were selected by the algorithm to be used in construction of the tree. The model suggests that tortoises tend to occur on southwest exposures and loamy soils, and that they avoid stony soils, north exposure, and areas of very low plant cover. Our results imply that soil composition and parent materials can be important determinants of habitat suitability for desert tortoises, and for burrowing animals in general. Our study also provides an example of how the interdisciplinary integration of biology, earth sciences, GIS, and statistical modeling can reveal important aspects of the habitat requirements of endangered species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)890-900
Number of pages11
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2000


  • Desert tortoise
  • Geographic Information System (GIS)
  • Gopherus agassizii
  • Habitat
  • Modeling
  • Mojave Desert
  • Regression tree

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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