In the wake of human expansion, relocations and the loss of habitat can be stressful to an organism, plausibly leading to population declines. The gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is a keystone species that constructs burrows it shares with 362 commensal species. Frequent exclusions and relocations and long generation times have contributed to G. polyphemus being State-designated as Threatened in Florida. Prior studies have indicated that G. polyphemus may possess homing behavior and thus be able to counteract stressors due to relocation and exclusion. I radiotracked a cohort of G. polyphemus for 11 months following excavation, relocation, and exclusion due to a pipeline construction project. In conjunction with analyzing G. polyphemus movement patterns post-release, I developed novel statistical methodologies with broad application for movement analysis and compared them to traditional analyses. I evaluated habitat usage, burrowing behavior, movements, growth, and disease signs among control versus relocated and excluded individuals and among sexes and size classes, forming predictors for behavior and disease risk. I found statistical support that my new methodology is superior to previous statistical tests for movement analyses. I also found that G. polyphemus engages in homing behavior, but only in males. Behavioral differences were also found between the sexes with respect to burrowing behavior. Overall health, disease prevalence, and immune response were unaffected by relocation and exclusion, nor were they statistically correlated. Signs were unreliable as etiological agents, outperformed by serological detection. I determined that the Sabal Trail pipeline as a potential stressor did not affect movement behavior, homing, nor the disease/immune profile of G. polyphemus in this study.
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Master of Science (M.S.)
College of Sciences
Length of Campus-only Access
Masters Thesis (Open Access)
Napier, Johnathan, "Behavioral and Disease Ecology of Gopher Tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) Post Exclusion and Relocation with a Novel Approach to Homing Determination" (2018). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 6381.