Although studies have addressed effects of abrupt transitions in habitat type (e.g., forest–clear-cut or forest–field edges) on amphibian movements, little is known about effects of more subtle habitat transitions on patterns of migration and habitat use in amphibians. We used radiotelemetry to study movement patterns of juvenile gopher frogs (Rana capito) emigrating from ponds that were surrounded by longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) forest that varied in structure as a result of fire suppression. Our primary purpose was to determine if frogs emigrate directionally from their natal ponds and select habitat at random during their first month following metamorphosis. We found that frogs emigrated in nonrandom directions from ponds that were surrounded by heterogeneous habitat and selected fire-maintained habitat that was associated with an open canopy, few hardwood trees, small amounts of leaf litter, and large amounts of wiregrass (Aristida beyrichiana). Fire-maintained habitat contained higher densities of burrows excavated by gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) and small mammals, which are the primary refuge sites for both juvenile and adult gopher frogs. Frogs moved up to 691 m from their natal ponds, frequently crossed dirt roads, and even seemed to use these roads as migration corridors. To maintain suitable terrestrial habitat for gopher frogs, including habitat used by migrating individuals, it is important to apply frequent prescribed fire to uplands surrounding breeding ponds that lead all the way to the edges of breeding ponds, as well as through ponds during periodic droughts.
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Vol. 73 • No. 2