A Comparative Analysis of the Commensal Diversity of Two Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) Populations in Central Florida

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Florida Southern College
Gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) are extremely important to Florida’s environments and have been called a keystone species. Gopher tortoises have earned this distinction because their burrows serve as shelter and foraging space for a plethora of different animals, also known as commensals, including invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and birds. Interestingly, the commensals that live in different areas may be different depending on the location and age of the gopher tortoise community. To determine the difference in commensal diversity between gopher tortoise populations, this study surveyed the commensals present in Circle B Bar Reserve, which has a relocated gopher tortoise population, and Lakeland Highland Scrubs, which has a natural, undisturbed population. Pit fall traps, motion-activated field cameras, and a burrow camera were used to survey the commensals that live among the gopher tortoises in both sites, and the diversity of each site’s commensals was analyzed. The two sites ultimately did not have significantly different commensal diversity, even though their gopher tortoise populations were present in their environments for very different lengths of time.
Gopher tortoise, Turtles, Commensalism, Conservation biology, Ecology