Effects of predation on gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) nest and hatchling survival
Dziadzio, Michelina Christine
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Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) populations are in decline range-wide and high levels of nest and hatchling predation may be contributing factors. Therefore, I examined natural and artificial nests at 3 nest sites to determine how location impacts gopher tortoise nest survival. I also examined the influence of red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) on nest and hatchling survival, and their indirect impacts on hatchlings. Finally, I compared fire ant presence at nests in gopher tortoise burrow aprons early and late in incubation to determine when fire ants detect tortoise nests. My results suggest that nests within burrow aprons are the most susceptible to predation. Gopher tortoise nests and hatchlings exposed to fire ants had lower survival and exhibited different movement patterns and growth rates than hatchlings exposed to reduced numbers of fire ants. Finally, I found that fire ants were primarily attracted to gopher tortoise nests early in incubation.