Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)
The gopher tortoise is the only true tortoise (family Testudinidae) found east of the Mississippi River. This imperiled species occurs within well-drained sandy uplands of the Southeastern Coastal Plain in six states (AL, FL, GA, LA, MS, and SC). The gopher tortoise is considered an ecosystem engineer in that its burrows provide refugia from extreme temperature, fire, and predators for 365 known species. In addition, it plays an important role as a seed disperser. This herbivore is dependent on fire to maintain open upland habitat with abundant, rich forage species. Gopher tortoises are protected in all states within their range, and the population west of the Tombigbee River (feeds into Mobile Bay) in southern Alabama is federally listed as threatened. The major threats to this species are habitat loss and fragmentation. The gopher tortoise is an umbrella species, in that management and conservation efforts on its behalf also benefit the diverse ecosystems in which it lives.
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Mushinsky, H.R., E.D. McCoy, J.D. Berish, R.E. Ashton, and D.S. Wilson. 2006. Gopherus polyphemus – Gopher Tortoise. Pp. 350–375 In P.A. Meylan (Ed.), Chelonian Research Monographs No. 3: Biology and Conservation of Florida Turtles. Chelonian Research Foundation, Lunenburg, Massachusetts.