Master of Science (MS)


Renewable Natural Resources

Document Type



Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) populations have declined with longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) ecosystems across their historic range. The influence of gopher tortoise burrows on co-inhabiting plants and animals necessitates an understanding of how landscape features and management practices influence gopher tortoise presence, absence, and abandonment. In this study, naïve gopher tortoise burrow encounter rates from a line transect distance sampling (LTDS) pilot study were used for two methods of modeling gopher tortoise habitat. In Chapter 1, naïve encounter rates were tested for a linear correlation to a HSI model created from three ranked geographic information system (GIS) landscape variables. Initial results showed a positive linear correlation (all P < 0.0001, 0.55 < r< to 0.70) but a second test using only transects with observed burrows resulted in the loss of all correlations (all P > 0.05, r values ranged from 0.17 to 0.42). However, logistic regression analysis revealed the HSI model was able to predict burrow presence along transects (P = 0.0003). In Chapter 2, microhabitat variables and five GIS landscape variables were reduced into seven correlated principal components (PCs). According to a generalized linear (logit) model three PCs were significantly associated to active and abandoned borrows. Active burrows were positively associated to: 1) sandhill habitats, longleaf pine canopy, Lakeland soils, high elevations, xeric oak midstory, and wiregrass (Aristida beyrichiana) presence (overall P = 0.003; active P = 0.008); and 2) grassland habitats, little to no canopy, and increased herbaceous ground cover (overall P = 0.0042; active P = 0.0052). Active burrows were negatively associated to mesic flatwoods, Scranton soils, mixed pine canopy, high basal areas, and increased percent tree canopy (overall P = 0.003; Active P = 0.008). Abandoned burrows were positively associated to xeric hammocks, xeric hardwood canopy, mesic hardwoods midstory, increased canopy cover, increased litter ground cover, and increased mean years between burns (overall P = 0.0448; abandoned P = 0.0137). The relationship between fire suppression and burrow abandonment is widely accepted but poorly documented, and the poor resolution of this fire layer accentuates the importance of this detected relationship.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Nyman, John A