Dr. Edie Banner and USFSM student Ian Weinstein talk about USFSM's gopher tortoise community.

USF Sarasota-Manatee receives grant to aid tortoise habitat

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: June 19, 2018

SARASOTA, Fla. (June 19, 2018)USF Sarasota-Manatee‘s protected gopher tortoises will soon see some improvements to their habitat thanks to assistance from the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.

The improvements – funded through a $2,860 Bay Partners Grant – will focus on six acres near the campus’ entrance where a community of gopher tortoises reside in burrows. Work on the year-long project is set to start this summer.

Gopher tortoises, which commonly live in sandy, upland areas, are considered threatened in Florida. The project’s main goal is to remove nuisance plants such as parasitic dodder vine, a species that covers shrubs and trees, suffocating them.

“We’ll replace any plants already damaged by the dodder,” said Edie Dr. Banner, an instructor in USFSM’s College of Science & Mathematics who is overseeing the work.

“Flowering plants and low hanging fruit will also be added to increase forage opportunities for our growing tortoise community,” she said.

Students and community volunteers will conduct the work after field training by Dr. Banner to safely maneuver around the tortoise burrows and avoid other organisms such as snakes and insects.

Until the work starts, Dr. Banner will continue reviewing the habitat to identify nuisance vegetation and ideal foraging areas.

“It’s going to be fun and a great learning tool,” said Ian Weinstein, a 19-year-old senior who aspires to become a field biologist. “It’s always nice to get out and into the field. You can learn only so much from a textbook.”

After the project, USFSM will hold a community event in April 2019 in conjunction with Florida Gopher Tortoise Day, with information and activities for children and adults.

For more information about USF Sarasota-Manatee’s biology program, visit usfsm.edu/academics/programs-and-majors/undergraduate/biology/index.aspx.

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