Mississippi State University
Barton, Brandon T.
Lashley, Marcus A.
Ervin, Gary N.
Date of Degree
Graduate Thesis - Open Access
Department of Biological Sciences
Gopher tortoises are ecosystem engineers whose burrows provide habitat to >350 species. Prescribed fire is used to manage tortoise habitat, but fire timing is mostly restricted to the vegetative dormant season. Restricted fire timing in combination with white-tailed deer competition may negatively affect tortoises. To address these concerns, we quantified these species’ dietary overlap and conducted a field experiment to examine impacts of fire phenology on plants and animals. Although tortoises and deer consumed ~75% of the same plants, their diets were statistically dissimilar. Fire altered plant community composition and increased foliar crude protein and phosphorus while decreasing calcium. Deer detections were unaffected, but tortoises were detected more in fire treatment plots. We simultaneously monitored burrow and surface temperatures and found burrows provide thermal refuge. Our data suggests that fire timing affects plants in ways that can affect gopher tortoises, and burrows may mitigate some negative impacts of climate change.
Thompson, Weston Curtis, "Gopher tortoises in the Anthropocene: investigating the effects of fire, temperature, and competition on an ecosystem engineer" (2020). Theses and Dissertations. 2430.