Dr. Peter Scott is the lead author of a study of the DNA of Mojave desert tortoises that appeared as the cover story of the November 27th issue of Science. “It’s pretty wild,” said Scott, an assistant professor of wildlife biology. “It’s not something I ever thought studying some tortoise DNA would get me. Part of that is that these results stem from a side project, so one of the main lessons is to listen to what the data says and be flexible enough to go where it tells you. Sometimes, you get an unexpected but powerful result.”Scott and his fellow researcher at UCLA, where he did postdoctoral studies, collaborated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study the DNA of desert tortoises that had been placed in its Large Scale Translocation Site in the Ivanpah Valley southeast of Las Vegas. Many of the tortoises were kept as pets, which became illegal when the animals were added to the endangered species list, or had to be moved because of development. The agency actively ran the site from 1997 to 2014 and officials there wanted to see if the fence around the site could be removed, allowing the tortoises to reenter the wild without causing negative consequences.
“Few scientists have work worthy of publication in Science,” said Dr. Kevin Pond, Dean of the Paul Engler College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences. “We are extraordinarily proud of Dr. Scott’s accomplishments and that he completed this project while teaching at WT.”