A study was conducted in 2009 to gather information on long-term gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) population dynamics, burrow distribution, and habitat use at Plum Creek/Lochloosa, a pine (Pinus elliottii; Pinus palustris) plantation in northern Florida. Mark–recapture surveys were conducted on this study site during the 1980s, and a follow-up survey was done in 1992. The ca. 66-ha study area is a mosaic of moderately well-drained and poorly drained soils, and it has had a history of clear-cutting and replanting. Recent management activities included a tree thinning in 2008 and a controlled burn in winter 2009. We located gopher tortoise burrows during late April and early May 2009, and captured tortoises in pitfall or wire traps during May–July. Fifty-two tortoises were captured on the study site and 4 others in an adjacent pine plantation across a paved rural road. Seventeen of the tortoises (33%) had been previously marked, including a male marked as a mature adult in 1982. Most (88%) marked individuals were found in the same approximate location (within 200 m) as during earlier surveys, despite the silviculture-related habitat changes over time. Only 8% of all marked (n = 211) tortoises were recaptured in 2009. Recapture rates were 4% for tortoises marked when immature, 10% for adult males, and 21% for adult females. Drill marks held up relatively well in adult tortoises but were difficult to discern in some tortoises marked as juveniles. Size and sex class distributions of tortoises captured in 2009 were different from those observed during 1981–1987 and 1992, primarily because fewer juveniles were captured in 2009. This follow-up survey indicated that viable gopher tortoise populations can persist on sites undergoing intensive silviculture, and it further substantiated tortoise use of windrow berms, ecotones, and relatively well-drained soils.
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Vol. 11 • No. 1