Gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) are a keystone species in Florida. The burrows they make have been shown to be used by nearly 400 species of animals. Although fewer species use gopher tortoise burrows on Sanibel and Captiva, these burrows are essential to their survival. At SCCF, we routinely monitor for gopher tortoise burrows at five locations to estimate the local population and assess the health of our native landscapes.
Helping Gopher Tortoises
SCCF conducts annual gopher tortoise burrow surveys on our lands in November to assess population numbers. Burrows are marked as active, inactive, or abandoned to help us estimate tortoises per acre.
Our staff keep the land hospitable to gopher tortoises through prescribed burns and hardwood removal, which maintains their natural habitat of diverse groundcover grasses.
Gopher Tortoise Facts
- In the upland habitats where gopher tortoises live, fire is a natural component of the ecosystem.
- They prefer open-canopy uplands with diverse, and abundant, grasses and ground cover plants.
- Gopher tortoise burrows act as a refuge for animals during fires.
- They depend on diverse groundcover grasses for food.
- Gopher tortoises are threatened in Florida due to threats including habitat loss, fire exclusion, and road mortality.