© J.D. Willson – Updated 2019
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Evaluating the Ability of Managed Pine Forest to Support Open Pine-Associated Herpetofauna in the Western Gulf Coastal Plain

Historical loss or conversion of native longleaf pine-dominated forests is thought to be a strong driver of biodiversity loss in Coastal Plain regions of the southeastern U.S. Native longleaf pine savannahs are characterized by low tree densities, low canopy cover, and a thick and diverse understory plant community containing. Following European colonization, cover of longleaf-dominated forest decreased by over 90%, with virtually no old-growth forest remaining. This loss has resulted in declines of many longleaf-associated species. Reptiles and amphibians are conspicuous components of the longleaf pine ecosystem and are recognized as both important contributors to biodiversity and ecosystem function and as among the most rapidly declining vertebrate groups. In the southeastern U.S. a disproportionate proportion of rare or declining reptile and amphibian species are associated with the longleaf pine ecosystem. Loblolly pine forest intensively managed for silviculture has become a dominant form of land cover across the historic range of the longleaf pine ecosystem in the Coastal Plain. Yet, few studies have comprehensively assessed herpetofauna communities in intensively managed loblolly pine forests and nearby longleaf forests, and almost none have focused on the western Gulf Coastal Plain. Thus, managers would benefit from improved understanding of local and landscape attributes that most strongly influence herpetofaunal assemblages in the Gulf Coastal Plain. Further, elucidating effects of forest management practices such as prescribed fire and mechanical/herbicide understory management on vegetation and forest structural conditions will increase understanding of wildlife habitat quality. This study addresses these knowledge gaps through a landscape-scale study evaluating habitat characteristics, vegetation, and herpetofauna communities in pine forests in the western Gulf Coastal Plain. We are examining overall reptile and amphibian community composition within managed loblolly and longleaf pine forest landscapes and evaluating habitat, stand, and management variables that relate to species occupancy and overall species richness within those landscapes.

Research Areas:

  • Characterizing herpetofaunal communities and vegetation in loblolly and longleaf pine forests under different management regimes, including young and recently-thinned managed plantations

  • Determining important local and landscape-scale drivers of occupancy of open pine-associated reptiles in the Gulf Coastal Plain

  • Assessing occupancy of pocket gophers in managed forests

Publications:

Primary Students:

Ethan Royal

Partners & Funding Sources:

  • National Council for Air and Stream Improvement

  • Weyerhaeuser Natural Resource Company