The role of controlled propagation on an endangered species: demographic effects of habitat heterogeneity among captive and native populations of the socorro isopod (Crustacea: Flabellifera)
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- Lang, B.K., Kelt, D.A. & Shuster, S.M. Biodivers Conserv (2006) 15: 3909. doi:10.1007/s10531-005-2094-4
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The Socorro isopod, Thermosphaeroma thermophilum, became the focus of a novel conservation strategy when apparent extirpation of the species from the wild prompted construction of the Socorro Isopod Propagation Facility (SIPF) near the native spring in Socorro, New Mexico, USA. We subjected captive populations to 4 habitat treatments over 2 consecutive 50-month experimental trials. Native populations of T. thermophilum remained significantly more abundant than captive subpopulations during the 100-month study. Population trends among artificial habitats differed slightly between the trials, but the magnitude of this difference was independent of linear flow within either pool series, suggesting that captive isopods responded to habitat quality. Isopod age structure was most heterogeneous in pools with plants suggesting that vertical structural diversity is necessary to maintain long-term viability of T. thermophilum in captivity. Observations of `breeding huddles' in the SIPF pools implied that controlled propagation may affect the social basis of the species' mating system. This could be a behavioral response to selection on body size that may reduce predation risks from larger male cannibals, or to increase fitness of both sexes under spatially altered sex ratios of artificial environments. Our results accentuate the need for continued research on species-specific management practices for geographically restricted invertebrate taxa such as the endangered Socorro isopod.