Bombing Range Tortoises
Monitoring Gopher Tortoises at a large military training site to inform management of threatened species
Gopher Tortoises were a Candidate species for federal listing from 2008 to 2022, prompting surveys of conservation lands throughout the Southeast to clarify their status and population trends. As part of this effort, we conducted multiple surveys to assess Gopher Tortoise populations on the 42,900-ha Avon Park Air Force Range. We also recorded occurrences of other herpetofauna, including federally threatened Eastern Indigo Snakes. Our multi-faceted research at this site (burrow surveys, intensive population monitoring, radio tracking) has generated many new insights into the ecology of Gopher Tortoises in the southern part of their range.
Major Findings & Impact
Our ongoing monitoring provides essential data to conserve Gopher Tortoises while fulfilling military training needs. We found that Avon Park Air Force Range supports a regionally significant tortoise population (or metapopulation), numbering in the thousands. Tortoise densities are lowest in habitats with poorly drained soils, such as mesic flatwoods and prairie. We also find relatively few juveniles in mesic habitats compared to more-xeric Florida scrub.
More about this project
Data and Analysis Types
Habitat-specific densities; burrow size distributions; tortoise movement and burrow use (telemetry); clutch sizes (radiography); herpetofaunal diversity
Avon Park Air Force Range
“Our research provides some of the ﬁrst insights into the demography of Gopher Tortoises in this part of the range, where careful management may be critical if populations are unstable due to suboptimal conditions combined with increasing pressures from human encroachment and climate change that could cause shifts in demographic trajectories. This may be particularly important in ﬂatwoods where recruitment appears limited and where longevity of adults could mask persistent lack of recruitment...”