Diet and Dietary Preference of the Juvenile Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus Polyphemus)

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Conservation, Demographic health, Diet, Foraging, Gopher tortoise, Gopherus Polyphemus, Herbivory

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We documented both the diet and dietary preference of free-ranging juvenile gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) by direct observation. All observations were conducted on a 1-ha plot of sandhill habitat that has been maintained on a 1-yr fire periodicity by controlled burning for more than 25 yr. Seventeen foraging observations of juvenile gopher tortoises were included in our analyses. Juvenile gopher tortoises ate 26 plant genera. To determine if juvenile gopher tortoises were selecting particular genera, either positively or negatively, we used Resampling Stats. Plants of 16 genera were selected positively by at least one juvenile gopher tortoise. The most abundant plant genus along the foraging paths, Aristida, was selected negatively. Other grasses (Poaceae) were consumed mostly during the cool months when forbs, several of which were selected positively, were in decline. Grasses mostly were eaten in proportion to their availability. Juvenile gopher tortoises foraged only for brief time periods and traveled short distances during a foraging bout. Individuals may satiate quickly and/or may be predisposed to remain near their burrow because they are vulnerable to thermal stress and/or predation. Turtles residing in habitats with high quality and abundant forage grow rapidly to sexual maturity, which, in turn, can increase population growth rate. Understanding the biology of the juvenile gopher tortoise can help shape management practices that prevent declines of gopher tortoise populations.

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Herpetologica, v. 59, issue 4, p. 475-483