Historically, Gopher Tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) occurred in fire-maintained habitats; however, many of these areas have been fire-suppressed. Herein, we examine the spatial distribution of Gopher Tortoises 17–18 years after fire reintroduction to a fire-suppressed area. Our study took place at Archbold Biological Station (ABS) in south-central Florida. Fires were suppressed at ABS from 1927 until 1985, at which time fire was reintroduced to this area. During 2002 and 2003, we surveyed Gopher Tortoise burrows in 17 burn units of sandhill and scrubby flatwoods with varied fire histories. Using density of active burrows as an indicator of Gopher Tortoise density, Gopher Tortoise burrow densities were highest in recently and frequently burned areas. Because fire influences habitat structure, we also gathered information on the amount of canopy cover and bare ground at each study site. Density of active Gopher Tortoise burrows increased with bare ground and decreased (but not significantly so) with canopy cover. Backward stepwise ridge regression analyses showed that number of fires was a more important predictor of active Gopher Tortoise burrow density than habitat structure (amount of bare ground). In sum, our study demonstrates that reintroducing fire to fire-suppressed areas is beneficial to Gopher Tortoises, and this response is not solely caused by changes in habitat structure.
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