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Site fidelity and home range of relocated gopher tortoises in Mississippi

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image of Applied Herpetology

Gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) are commonly relocated to prevent them from being killed when their habitat is developed. To further our understanding of whether such relocation is an effective management technique, we determined site fidelity, burrow use, and home range size for gopher tortoises that were relocated for construction of a military range on Camp Shelby Army National Guard Training Site in Mississippi. We monitored tortoises that were relocated off-site (outside of their original colony) or on-site (within their original colony), and control tortoises that had not been relocated. 69% of tortoises remained at off-site relocation areas 1 year after relocation; fidelity varied from 25-89% between sites. Two years after relocation 47% (0-83%) of the tortoises relocated off-site remained at their relocation areas. Tortoises that remained at off-site relocation areas seemed to become settled within a few weeks of release and had similar burrow use and home range sizes to control tortoises. Site fidelity for on-site relocations was high, with all of the tortoises remaining at least 1 year after relocation. Tortoises at on-site relocation areas used fewer burrows than those at control sites and tended to have smaller home ranges, most likely caused by part of their original range being developed. In some circumstances gopher tortoise relocation may be an appropriate conservation tool and can be used to help the survival of a species that is under high pressure from development.


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