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Welcome to the technical sessions schedule for the 2015 SEAFWA Annual Meeting.

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Wednesday, November 4 • 8:40am - 9:00am
Linking Demography and Landscape Resistance to Assess Functional Connectivity of Gopher Tortoise Populations in Georgia

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Bryan L. Nuse, Georgia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, University of Georgia; Jeffrey Hepinstall-Cymerman, University of Georgia; Clinton T. Moore, U.S. Geological Society, Georgia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, University of Georgia; Matt Elliott, Georgia Department of Natural Resources

Functional connectivity between animal populations can be difficult to assess, especially for long-lived species. However, understanding connectivity is critical to conservation strategy, because the degree of connectivity among patches determines whether metapopulation principles should be applied. The gopher tortoise is a keystone species in fire-dependent pine forests of the southeastern USA, and is a candidate for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act in the eastern part of its range. Tortoises may live as long as 6-10 decades, and generally maintain fairly small home ranges (< 1 to a few hectares). Consequently only a few long-term population studies have been performed. Several of these have reported infrequent long-distance movements (1-2 kilometers), however. We developed a Bayesian population model that uses recently acquired survey data, published demographic and movement rates, and habitat attributes to predict two features of gopher tortoise populations: density, and the potential for a patch to export individuals. The Bayesian modeling framework allows incorporation of various hypotheses regarding unknown population processes, such as fecundity. We use our model in combination with a movement resistance map to identify complexes of habitat patches that may be functionally connected, and within which metapopulation processes may be expected to operate. This information is being used as part of a larger tortoise conservation planning tool that will guide land protection actions by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Wednesday November 4, 2015 8:40am - 9:00am EST
Ballroom Salon B

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