A wide diversity of remarkable animals calls longleaf pine flatwoods and sandhills habitats home. Here, discover species special to naturalist Dirk Stevenson. He has spent much of his life in the Coastal Plain of the southeastern United States wading swamps and exploring pine landscapes in his field studies of imperiled and declining amphibians, reptiles and insects.
Here, Dirk authors accounts of the deep-digging gopher tortoise, a denizen of longleaf sandhills and a keystone species; and the gopher frog and the eastern indigo snake, which have developed intimate associations within the burrows of the tortoise. Discover the secretive frosted flatwoods salamander, an amphibian of mesic longleaf pine savannas, and take a closer look at the odd Say’s spiketail dragonfly. The nymphs of this predatory insect live in mucky springs while the adults hunt for wasps and bees in longleaf pine – turkey oak sandhills. And last is the industrious and comical southeastern pocket gopher, whose numerous mounds can be seen from space.
How do you protect some of the most endangered forest habitats in the United States? The answer may lie with a critter that often lives beneath that forest: a burrowing species called the gopher tortoise.
Gopher tortoises, which are listed as threatened by the federal government, are native to the Southeastern United States, where they have made their home in a unique, sandy ecosystem called the longleaf pine forest. These forests, which once covered more than 90 million acres across the Southeast, have all but disappeared. Today, after more than 200 years of development, only about 3 percent of historic longleaf pine forests remain.
Most of the longleaf forest that still stands—including more than 80 percent of gopher tortoise habitat—exists on privately held lands. To help both species, the U.S. Department of Agriculture this month launched a strategy to provide landowners with the tools and resources they need to restore and enhance their pine forests.