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Density of Gopher Tortoise Burrows on Commercial Forestland in Alabama and Mississippi

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In the southern United States, owners of potential forest habitat for the federally threatened gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) often conduct surveys prior to implementing management practices that could affect tortoise burrows. Results from such surveys can enhance understanding of the status and habitat associations of this species. During 1999 to 2001, we surveyed 8,001 and 3,837 ha of planted, closed-canopy loblolly (Pinus taeda) and slash pine (Pinus elliottii) forests, respectively, that were scheduled for a first thinning (P1T), second thinning (P2T), or regeneration harvest (PRH) and were in the listed range of the gopher tortoise in Alabama and Mississippi. We found averages of 5.0 ± 0.8 (SE) active, 3.2 ± 0.5 inactive, 6.7 ± 0.8 abandoned, and 14.8 ± 1.7 total burrows per 100 ha surveyed. Burrow density and burrow width generally did not differ among stand structural classes, although in loblolly pine stands, abandoned burrows were denser in P1T stands than in PRH stands. We found burrows in a variety of soil and topographic positions and at various distances from canopy openings. Our findings suggest that in the western portion of the range, gopher tortoises surveys should not be limited to open stand conditions or sandy outcrops.

Keywords: Gopherus polyphemus; burrow density; pine plantations; private lands; survey

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2012-02-01

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  • Each regional journal of applied forestry focuses on research, practice, and techniques targeted to foresters and allied professionals in specific regions of the United States and Canada. The Southern Journal of Applied Forestry covers an area from Virginia and Kentucky south to as far west as Oklahoma and east Texas.
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