Status and trends of gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) populations are a critical information need for natural resource managers, researchers, and policy makers. Many tortoise populations are small and isolated, which can present challenges for deriving population estimates. Our objective was to compare abundance and density estimates for a small tortoise population derived using a total burrow count versus estimates obtained with line transect distance sampling (LTDS) using repeated surveys. We also compared results of the 2 survey methods using standard burrow-to-tortoise correction factors versus assessing occupancy of all burrows with a camera scope. In addition, we compared LTDS data obtained using a compass and measuring tape to define transects to those obtained using a Global Positioning System (GPS) and Personal Data Assistant (PDA) field computer to navigate transects. Line transect distance sampling with repeated surveys (both with a measuring tape and compass and with a GPS–PDA) yielded sufficient observations of tortoises to calculate population estimates. From 18% to 31% of burrows were occupied by tortoises as determined with the burrow camera. We found 25 burrows during the LTDS survey that we did not find in the total count survey, which demonstrated that the assumption of 100% detection for the total count was not met; hence, density or abundance measurements derived with this method were underestimates. We recommend using GPS–PDA technology, scoping all burrows detected, and using LTDS with repeated surveys to estimate abundance and density for small gopher tortoise populations.
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