Foods and Habitat of the Gopher Tortoise in Southwestern Georgia

Broad-leaved grasses (Poaceae) were staple foods of gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus), while wiregrass (Aristida stricta) was taken mainly in early spring and late fall. These plants were relatively high in fiber and were partially replaced in the diet by more nutritious forbs when available. Wild legumes (Fabaceae), which were very high in protein, were used extensively, especially by juveniles. Individuals near agricultural areas fed heavily on Florida pussley (Richardia scabra), and poor-Joe (Diodia teres) was taken frequently in areas of past soil disturbance. Vegetation in ruderal areas generally contained more minerals than food plants on natural sand ridges. Forage production (161 - 683 kg/ha) was positively correlated (r2 = 0.88) with tortoise density and largely determined carrying capacity. However, occasional ingestion of animal matter (especially by females) may be a significant source of protein and minerals which are limited in xeric tortoise habitat.

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