University of Georgia

SREL team captures desert tortoise conservation award

small tortoise walking on rocky ground right next to a tree
The desert tortoise, a threatened species, is the subject of award-winning research by a team at UGA’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. (Photo by Jacob Daly)

A research team at the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory has been awarded the Robert C. Stebbins Research Award by the Desert Tortoise Council.

Tracey Tuberville, a senior research scientist, and Kurt Buhlmann, senior research associate, were selected by the DTC along with Brian Todd, an alumnus of SREL and the Odum School of Ecology, for exemplary research and contributions to the conservation of the desert tortoise. Todd is currently a professor at the University of California, Davis.

The Robert C. Stebbins Award recognizes an individual or team with an outstanding record of research that contributes to the understanding of the desert tortoise species and the ecosystems they inhabit. The desert tortoise is a threatened species.

Ken McDonald, chair of the board of directors of DTC, acknowledged the team’s work, along with their graduate students, in making significant contributions to head-starting desert tortoises, the technique of raising the species in captivity until they are large enough to survive in the wild.

“Under your direction, your students have developed and tested hypothesis, published their work in journals and presented papers at the Desert Tortoise Council Symposia, thereby making the findings available to a broad audience,” McDonald said. “Without your leadership and efforts, the science of head-starting would not have reached the level it has achieved today.”

In addition to citing the research team’s achievement in developing options to raise the tortoises to less vulnerable sizes, DTC recognized the team’s success in developing methods to speed growth and development, identify important microhabitats and improve the species’ survival under various conditions once released into the wild.

The team recently received the award at a virtual ceremony.