Management Needs Of Sandhill Reptiles In Southern Georgia

Habitat use by the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon corais couperi), and associated species was studied in southern Georgia. Tortoises colonized sites where sand depth typically exceeded 1 m, and generally moved within areas less than 4 ha each year. The greatest population density (15.8/ha) was in longleaf pine (Pinus palustris)-scrub oak (Quercus spp.) stands burned every 2-4 years. Thirty other vertebrate species were observed using tortoise burrows, and den size was evidently a factor in selection by some. All radio-instrumented indigo snakes used sandhills during winter and 94 percent of the winter dens were tortoise burrows; they also nested, foraged, and denned in burrows during other seasons and frequented clearings and windrowed areas. In slash pine (Pinus elliottii) plantations frequently burned, herbaceous biomass was 2.3 times as great, tortoise density was 3.1 times as great, and indigo snake use was 2.8 times as great as in an adjacent natural area where most longleaf pine had been harvested and fire seldom usee!. Recommended recovery of such areas includes judicious thinning of scrub oaks and re-establishing the pine component to produce needle cast for carrying fire. The remaining forested sandhill communities are increasingly important and can be maintained only with active management.

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