An Analysis of the Vegetation within the FAU Preserve as a Basis for Management of Scrub Habitat for Gopherus polyphemus
Keywords:Scrub habitat, gopher tortoise, conservation biology, vegetation, habitat fragmentation, management, community ecology
AbstractIn Florida, urbanization has caused habitat fragmentation coupled with a major decline in the available habitat for native species. Native scrublands are of particular concern as they are deemed priority habitat by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Florida Atlantic University’s Ecological Preserve—home to a keystone species, the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)— is a prime example of such a fragmented, degraded scrub habitat. Our research focused on how fragmentation affected habitat suitability, as determined by the distribution of tortoise burrows in the preserve. We found significant correlations between higher burrow densities and minimal (< 50 %) shrub and canopy cover. Burrow densities were also higher in areas of greater herbaceous cover and organic soil content. These correlations were in agreement with previous findings reported in the literature. However, 23% of the preserve area was covered with invasive vines that, unless controlled, could further degrade the habitat. Our data suggest how a plan could be developed and implemented for the better management of gopher tortoises in the FAU Preserve.