The Gopher Frog, Lithobates capito, is an endemic to upland, fire-maintained pine forests on the Southeastern Coastal Plain and requires open, isolated wetlands for breeding. This species has experienced drastic population declines because of habitat loss and degradation and now occurs only in scattered populations in the southern United States. We tracked the post-breeding movements and burrow use of 17 Gopher Frogs in the Sandhills of North Carolina using radio telemetry. Nine frogs were successfully tracked to summer refugia; the other eight frogs shed their transmitters or were killed by predators or fire during migration. Frogs traveled 0.5−3.5 km (mean = 1.3 km) between the breeding pond and a summer refugium. The 3.5-km movement is substantially longer than has been reported for Gopher Frogs before. Our results suggest that an area of 3,739 ha (9,239 acres) around breeding ponds is required to provide summer habitat for Gopher Frogs. Eight of nine frogs used holes associated with the stumps of longleaf pines for their summer refugia, and we documented fidelity to particular stumps, with one frog traveling long distances from breeding pond to the same summer refugium during two consecutive seasons. Frogs only made major movements during rainy nights. Prolonged presence on the forest floor during post-breeding migrations exposed frogs to prescribed fires conducted in the spring. Prescribed burning within several kilometers of Gopher Frog ponds should be conducted after mid-May to reduce adult mortality.
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Vol. 46 • No. 4