What does the drinking water from your faucet have to do with the gopher tortoise?
In the talk I attended by field biologist George L. Heinrich at Weedon Island on September 22, I learned that a healthy gopher tortoise population in the uplands environment is critical to our water supply because the upland environment is the source of Florida’s aquifer.
Working to save the gopher tortoise, Heinrich says, will ensure the health of this uplands environment. Preserves must maintain the environment by methods such as controlled burns. Heinrich noted these burns are critical to the survival of the animals in the uplands, which need the forests thinned periodically.
According to Heinrich, the tortoises dig their burrows in well-drained sandy soils found in pine flatwoods and scrub. The tortoises are the most important vertebrate in the uplands, which is why so many of the other inhabitants of the natural systems there have “gopher” in their names, such as gopher frogs. In fact, the tortoises’ burrows provide shelter for many other species. For this reason, Heinrich calls the gopher tortoise an “umbrella species.”
A brochure distributed by Heinrich from the Gopher Tortoise Council notes that the worst threat to the gopher tortoise is habitat loss. This loss occurs because of development and fire suppression. Other threats include disease, road mortality, and predation by humans. Harvesting the tortoises is illegal in every state where they live.
The Gopher Tortoise Council supports upland ecosystem conservation and hosts efforts to educate the public on the gopher tortoise and preserving its habitat. The Council invites the public to join and is on the Web at gophertortoisecouncil.org or can be contacted via mail at Gopher Tortoise Council c/o Florida Museum of Natural History, PO Box 117800, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.
Heinrich also led us on a walk to discover gopher tortoise burrows. It was a beautiful day, the preserve outside the Weedon building was sunny and lovely, and the burrows I saw included one still in use by a tortoise.
Heinrich will speak about the gopher tortoise on Tuesday, October 9, 7:30 pm, at Boyd Hill Nature Park in St. Petersburg. Tickets are still available for the October 6 presentation by signing up at the Extension Calendar.
This page highlights other events happening at Weedon this month, which include Bats of America on October 19 and the Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project (PEEP) presentation on October 27.