Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Barton, Brandon T.

Committee Member

Lashley, Marcus A.

Committee Member

Ervin, Gary N.

Date of Degree


Document Type

Graduate Thesis - Open Access


Biological Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Science


College of Arts and Sciences


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.