Habitat Selection by the Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)
ENGINEER RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT CENTER CHAMPAIGN IL CONSTRUCTION ENGINEERING RESEARCH LAB
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The gopher tortoise Gopherus polyphemus occurs in the southeastern Coastal Plain and has experienced widespread decline due to habitat loss and other human impacts. The largest remaining populations occur on private lands and military installations. Proper management at these sites will be critical to the success of the species. The goal of this study was to determine the response of gopher tortoises to forestry management practices commonly implemented in the management of the redcockaded woodpecker. We monitored habitat use of individual tortoises at four study sites with different ownership and management scenarios Fort Gordon military installation, winter burning, Savannah River Site federal defense facility, winter burning, translocated population, Tillman Sand Ridge state wildlife preserve, summer burning, and a private hunting preserve no management. Habitat data were collected to characterize typical canopy and herbaceous vegetation of each site. Data were collected at active burrows the anecdotal belief that tortoises select the most open habitat available was confirmed. The preferred habitat density appears to be in the range of 40 percent canopy cover, a value compatible with current woodpecker management guidelines. Results will be used to develop recommendations for the concurrent management of gopher tortoises and red-cockaded woodpeckers.