Mentor: Dr. Nicole Gerlach
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
"I initially became involved in research because I wanted to gain first-hand knowledge of the scientific process while also applying the skills I learned in the classroom. Getting involved this summer alone has allowed me to assist biologists in conducting important field research on the threatened Gopher Tortoise and has also allowed me to conduct my own research project under the mentorship of experienced scientists."
- Conservation Biology
University Scholars Program 2014-2015
Edison State College Honors Scholar Program 2011-2013
Dr. Charles O’Neill Outstanding Student in Physical Science Award 2013
- Archbold Biological Station
- Calusa Nature Center & Planetarium
- Sierra Club
Hobbies and Interests
How Edges Impact Predation Risk of Threatened Juvenile Gopher Tortoises
The Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) has declined significantly throughout its range in the southeastern United States and is listed as federally threatened west of the Mobile and Tombigbee Rivers while receiving state protection in its eastern region. The species is ecologically important because its burrows are used by over 350 other animal species. Threats to the Gopher Tortoise include loss of habitat, vehicle collisions, and, in some populations, predation of hatchlings or juveniles by mammals, snakes, and birds. While much research has been conducted on adult tortoises, some demographic models suggest the species’ long-term survival is highly sensitive to changes in juvenile and hatchling mortality rates, and the factors that affect these rates remain largely unknown. In addition, little is known about how anthropogenic edges, such as roads, might influence this risk in fragmented habitat. Such areas provide breaks in the canopy (especially in fire-suppressed habitat) that support plants that Gopher Tortoises feed on; however, edges may also provide unobstructed routes for the movement of predators. I investigated edge effects on predation risk for juvenile tortoises by placing tortoise-scented plasticine model tortoises in artificial burrows at interior and edge points in historically fire-suppressed habitat at Archbold Biological Station in Highlands County, Florida. I recorded predator occurrence and attack rates at each point using motion-sensor cameras. The primary predators were mammalian mesopredators, a majority of which were raccoons. Approximately twice as many predators visited edge burrows compared to interior burrows. Presently it is unclear what effect the increased predator visitation rate has on the tortoise population. Further study is warranted to wholly understand how to best conserve this vulnerable species and its habitat.