Habitat and population modeling as tools for the conservation of the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)
Type of DegreeMaster's Thesis
Forestry and Wildlife Science
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Spatial heterogeneity is an inherent part of landscapes and often has important consequences for the movements, distribution, or persistence of many wildlife species. Quantifying the composition, configuration, and connectivity of suitable habitat and its consequences for populations can provide valuable information about both the ecology and management of many species. This type of information may be particularly useful for informing the conservation and management of threatened or endangered species. The gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is a species of high conservation concern due to the decline of populations across its range and its role in the ecosystem. To help inform conservation of this species, I assessed connectivity of suitable habitat across a broad portion of the gopher tortoise's range, quantified habitat connectivity under various management alternatives at selected sites in Alabama, and developed a spatially explicit population projection model to predict the future population consequences of various management strategies. This research provides evidence for a broad-scale pattern of changing habitat connectivity across a large portion of the gopher tortoise's range and highlights the importance of considering management effects on connectivity at finer scales. Results from the population projection demonstrate the importance of considering a spatial component when projecting population size into the future and indicate a need for further research on gopher tortoise survival rates. The models developed in this research demonstrate the utility of these types of spatial analyses for informing conservation and management, and could be adapted to other species of conservation concern.