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Research permit renewed

Jan 4, 2019
by Jayda Barnes, '20

Flagler professor heads gopher tortoise study with national research reserve

Dr. Barbara Blonder, associate professor of natural sciences and director of undergraduate research, planned a research project with her colleagues to study how gopher tortoise food supply has been impacted by recent hurricanes.

This project partners with the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM Research Reserve), a research, stewardship and environmental education organization dedicated to the advancement of scientific knowledge of coastal systems and natural resources and the transfer of that information to the community at large for the improvement of coastal management. The Reserve is one of 29 coastal sites in the United States designated to protect and study estuarine systems.

Gopher tortoises create extensive burrows in beach dunes and their habitats provide shelter for over 350 other species, making them a keystone species in the ecosystem, said Nikki Dix, research director at the Reserve. Gopher tortoises are already threatened in Florida due to development of much of their habitat. According to Blonder, this project will investigate how gopher tortoise food supply has been affected by Hurricanes Matthew and Irma, providing an understanding of the condition of beach dunes and their main inhabitants. The research will provide information to help conservation groups and agencies protect gopher tortoises and their habitats.

The Reserve has been a major resource for Flagler students throughout the years, creating opportunities for capstone projects, internships, assistantships and peer-reviewed scientific publications. The project began almost two years ago and this 2018-2019 academic year marked another year that the Reserve engaged with Flagler through the renewal of the research permit.

With this study of gopher tortoises, the Reserve continues to foster a relationship with the Flagler community, advancing our local and national understanding of coastal science.

“The new research project planned by Dr. Barbara Blonder and her colleagues fits right in to the mission of the GTMNERR and will be used by others such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission,” said Dix.

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