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Comprehensive health assessment of gopher tortoises inhabiting fragmented habitat in South Florida Page-Karjian, Annie, and Justin Perrault.. Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, 7 May 2019. Experiment
Tortoises will be hand-captured and a variety of measurements will be collected, including carapace length and width and plastron length. This will help us determine whether the animal is an adult or juvenile. We will also determine if the tortoise is male or female according to the methods outlined by McRae et al. (1981), as well as use an ultrasound to determine if females are gravid. All animals captured will receive a full physical exam, including close attention to any clinical signs of upper respiratory tract disease (URTD), a chronic disease caused by infection with Mycoplasma agassizii and M. testudineum. This disease is considered a viable threat to gopher tortoise population stability (McGuire et al. 2014). The four main clinical signs of URTD include nasal discharge, ocular discharge, palpebral edema, and conjunctivitis (Berish et al. 2010). We will test nasal swabs for the presence of Mycoplasma spp. using PCR, and we will analyze plasma samples for evidence of antibodies to Mycoplasma spp. using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). We will also test oral-cloacal swabs for Ranavirus and Herpesvirus, both of which have been reported in gopher tortoises and can also present as an URTD. We will evaluate blood samples taken from each tortoise for complete blood cell counts with differential, total solids, and glucose concentrations. Fecal samples will be collected opportunistically and analyzed for evidence of gastrointestinal parasites (i.e., egg casings, adult worms). To facilitate future monitoring of this gopher tortoise aggregation, we will identify the tortoises by notching their carapaces.
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