Environmental Management

, Volume 51, Issue 3, pp 786-800

First online:

A Strategy for Prioritizing Threats and Recovery Actions for At-Risk Species

  • Catherine R. DarstAffiliated withDesert Tortoise Recovery Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Email author 
  • , Philip J. MurphyAffiliated withRedlands Institute, University of Redlands
  • , Nathan W. StroutAffiliated withRedlands Institute, University of Redlands
  • , Steven P. CampbellAffiliated withSchool of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Arizona
  • , Kimberleigh J. FieldAffiliated withDesert Tortoise Recovery Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • , Linda AllisonAffiliated withDesert Tortoise Recovery Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • , Roy C. Averill-MurrayAffiliated withDesert Tortoise Recovery Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Ensuring the persistence of at-risk species depends on implementing conservation actions that ameliorate threats. We developed and implemented a method to quantify the relative importance of threats and to prioritize recovery actions based on their potential to affect risk to Mojave desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii). We used assessments of threat importance and elasticities of demographic rates from population matrix models to estimate the relative contributions of threats to overall increase in risk to the population. We found that urbanization, human access, military operations, disease, and illegal use of off highway vehicles are the most serious threats to the desert tortoise range-wide. These results suggest that, overall, recovery actions that decrease habitat loss, predation, and crushing will be most effective for recovery; specifically, we found that habitat restoration, topic-specific environmental education, and land acquisition are most likely to result in the greatest decrease in risk to the desert tortoise across its range. In addition, we have developed an application that manages the conceptual model and all supporting information and calculates threat severity and potential effectiveness of recovery actions. Our analytical approach provides an objective process for quantifying threats, prioritizing recovery actions, and developing monitoring metrics for those actions for adaptive management of any at-risk species.


Threats assessment Conservation planning Species recovery Endangered species Adaptive management Mojave desert tortoise