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Lake Thoreau Environmental Center

Gopher Tortoises

 

Collaborators: Dr. Carl Qualls, Dr. Brian Kreiser & Dr. Micheal Davis

Gopher TortoiseThe Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) inhabits most of the original range of the Longleaf Pine Savannah in the southeastern United States (LA, MS, AL, GA, SC, and FL) and is Federally threatened in Mississippi.  They get their name from the burrows that they dig for protection from predators, fire, and temperature extremes and as a keystone species many other species rely on these burrows or the tortoise itself for survival.

In Mississippi, populations can be characterized as aging with little to no recruitment, meaning that there is a lack of young tortoises to replace the older individuals when they die.  In some of the low recruitment sites within Mississippi, it has been observed that many hatchling tortoises fail to dig burrows, instead seeking shelter under vegetation or in shallow “pallet burrows” that provide little protection from predators, fire, or temperature extremes, possibly contributing to higher hatchling mortality and lower recruitment.  Past research has indicated that innate genetic problems can cause low hatching rates.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks is currently funding a breeding program to introduce genetic material from successful Florida tortoise populations into our local Mississippi populations.