Movement and activity drivers of an ecosystem engineer: Aldabrachelys gigantea on Aldabra Atoll.
UWW262 Environmental Science Master Thesis. Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies.
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The findings of my study suggest that temperature and rainfall are key factors
influencing the movement of tortoises, with movement being restricted by daily activity rate
and seasonal fluctuations in vital resources. In the context of climate change it is important that
monitoring of movement patterns and home range sizes continues long-term for such a long-
lived species, in order to identify the magnitude of any change. Tortoises will be able to adapt at
the individual level, but if climate change is severe the population level will certainly decrease,
which would have dramatic consequences for the atoll ecosystem. As the chief engineers,
tortoises are tied directly to their habitat, which in turn requires the tortoises in order to
maintain diversity and heterogeneity.
My study, in conjunction with previous studies from the Royal Society days, can help to
characterise movement of tortoises on the atoll at a population level. The behavioural norm has
yet to be resolved, but the factors which determine apparently random movement in each
individual are beginning to be understood. As the primary herbivore on Aldabra, tortoises in
their large numbers exert considerable pressure on their habitat. With further reseearch we?
can hopefully extrapolate the findings in this thesis of individual tortoise movement ecology to
the population level.
Mounting evidence demonstrates that global climate is changing, and conservation
biologists not only need to anticipate the phenology and movements of individual species in
response to climate change (Root and Schneider 2006), but must also be able to project and
predict the impact of potential changes to biological communities such as Aldabra. Direct and
indirect effects of global climate change are difficult to quantify in many instances, especially as
the changes are not immediate, and will be more difficult to mitigate against in the short term
for tortoises. By remotely monitoring tortoise movement and activity we now have baseline
data to monitor change in a changing climate and plan effective conservation strategies for the
species, and therefore the atoll.