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Georgia Journal of Science

Article Title

COMPARISON OF GOPHER TORTOISE AND NINE BANDED ARMADILLO COMMENSAL FAUNA**

Abstract

Burrows excavated by the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) are utilized by hundreds of species. For this reason, the gopher tortoise is considered an ecosystem engineer as well as a keystone species. However, throughout its range in the southeastern United States, the gopher tortoise is now syntopic with another species that excavates burrows: the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus). While many studies have investigated gopher tortoise commensals, relatively few studies have examined armadillo commensals, and no study to date that we are aware of has compared and contrasted burrow commensals in areas where the armadillo and gopher tortoise co-occur. The goal of the present study is to compare and contrast burrow commensals via the deployment of 20 motion activated game cameras placed at burrow entrances (10 armadillo & 10 gopher tortoise burrows) within a mixed-pine hardwood stand at the Lake Louise Field station in Lowndes County, Georgia. Camera deployment was initiated in August 2019 and trapping will occur over a one to two-year period. During preliminary data collection we observed five-lined skink (Eumeces fasciatus), mouse species, and Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) entering both gopher tortoise and armadillo burrows at nearly every sampled burrow. In addition, we observed a bobcat (Lynx rufus) investigating entrances of both burrow types. This research will be valuable for determination of whether or not the introduced nine-banded armadillo can function as a potential surrogate keystone species in areas where gopher tortoise populations have been reduced.

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