Upland Pine, Blackwater River State Forest. Photo by Gary Knight

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Update from the Field: Investigating Gopher Tortoise Burrows

Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus).  Photo by Dan Hipes.

FNAI has worked with various state and federal land managers over the last 22 years to conduct gopher tortoise surveys using burrow scopes.   Currently, we are working with the US Forest Service to do surveys of gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) in two high quality sandhills, the Munson Hills area of the Apalachicola National Forest and Riverside Island in the Ocala National Forest.  FNAI biologists use a burrow scoping camera, exploring each burrow encountered, to determine tortoise occupancy and record the identity of any commensal animals present.  Dozens of species of vertebrates and invertebrates inhabit gopher tortoise burrows, many of which are obligate commensals (species that require gopher tortoise burrows as habitat).  The beautiful and rare Carolina gopher frog (Lithobates capito) is a common inhabitant documented in high quality habitat.

Gopher frogs (Lithobates capito) and gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) as seen through a burrow scoping camera.

Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) burrow in the Ocala National Forest, Marion County.  Photo by Amy Jenkins

FNAI biologist using a burrow scoping camera to investigate a tortoise burrow.  Photo by Paul Russo.

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