Graduation Year

2012

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.S.

Degree Granting Department

Biology (Integrative Biology)

Major Professor

Earl McCoy

Co-Major Professor

Henry Mushinsky

Keywords

Clutch Size, Egg Diameter, Florida, Herpetology, Radiography

Abstract

As part of a state-funded Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus Daudin) translocation project, I monitored actively grazed improved pastures to determine if they could serve as suitable recipient sites for the threatened Gopher Tortoise displaced by human development. For cattle ranches to be considered suitable recipient sites females must be able to acquire sufficient energy to produce a clutch of viable eggs, and sufficiently high quality vegetation must be available to support juvenile recruitment into the population. Vegetation surveys were conducted to determine the composition and percent cover of plant species, especially those containing high amounts of nutrients, specifically nitrogen. Resident and relocated females were radiographed during the 2010 and 2011 nesting seasons for the presence of shelled eggs. I was able to determine clutch size and egg diameter for both relocated and resident gravid females. Mean clutch sizes were not significantly different between years. Resident females had larger mean clutch sizes than relocated females in both years, significantly so in 2011, suggesting a period of stress and adjustment for relocated females. Egg diameters were significantly larger by 2.5 to 4.5 mm in 2010 for relocated and resident females, respectively, compared to 2011. Three females were recaptured in both years and exhibited the same trend of similar clutch sizes between years but significantly smaller eggs in 2011. A total of 68 unique taxa from 31 families were found, grasses (Poaceae) were the most dominant and covered a mean of 57% of the total sampled area. Four forb species occurred at much greater percent covers than all others. However, only two species (Richardia and Desmodium) were found to have adequate nutritional content and occur at percent covers greater than five percent, indicating that forage availability may be high, but forage quality may be inadequate to support growing juveniles. Burrow surveys indicate that at least some hatchlings are able to successfully leave the nest by the presence of hatchling size burrows scattered throughout the fields, but the ratio of juveniles to eggs laid is especially low. Survivorship of eggs, hatchlings and juveniles may be too low to support a sustainable Gopher Tortoise population in improved pasture possibly because of lack of adequate forage, burrow compaction by cows, lack of available natural shelter material for protection from desiccation, and the reduced ability of movement in thick pasture grasses, especially by hatchling and yearling tortoises.

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