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Short-distance Translocation as a Management Option for Nuisance Maritime Pocket Gophers
Tara P. Hansler, Scott E. Henke, Humberto L. Perotto-Baldivieso, Jon A. Baskin, and Clay Hilton

Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 16, Issue 4 (2017): 603–613

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Southeastern Naturalist 603 T.P. Hansler, S.E. Henke, H.L. Perotto-Baldivieso, J.A. Baskin, and C. Hilton 22001177 SOUTHEASTERN NATURALIST 1V6o(4l.) :1660,3 N–6o1. 34 Short-distance Translocation as a Management Option for Nuisance Maritime Pocket Gophers Tara P. Hansler1, Scott E. Henke2,*, Humberto L. Perotto-Baldivieso2, Jon A. Baskin1, and Clay Hilton2 Abstract - Geomys personatus maritimus (Maritime Pocket Gopher) is a genetically distinct subspecies of pocket gopher that occurs only in deep, sandy soils located in Nueces and Kleberg counties of southern Texas. The US Fish and Wildlife Service considers it a species of concern. Pocket gophers are considered a nuisance because they dig burrows and create mounds in landscaped areas. Lethal control options are not advised because of the Maritime Pocket Gopher’s rarity status and recent public attitude disfavoring lethal methods. However, short-distance translocation might be a management option, but research to determine its viability is lacking. We captured 15 Maritime Pocket Gophers from athletic fields and commercial properties in Corpus Christi, TX. For all captured gophers, we subcutaneously or intraperitoneally implanted a radio transmitter, translocated the animals to private property within 2 km from their capture site, and radio-tracked their movements for ≤4 months to determine if their behavior and activity differed from 4 control gophers. Subcutaneous transmitters implanted in the scapular region were lost by 86% of the gophers (n = 12 of 14), while 100% (n = 5) of the gophers retained intraperitoneal-implanted transmitters. Relocated Maritime Pocket Gophers did not return to their site of origin. Gopher movements generally were away from their homing lines (i.e., an imaginary line drawn between each translocated gopher’s capture site and release site), and they did not become successively closer to their respective sites of capture. Therefore, short-distance translocation has the potential to be a management option for nuisance gophers. Introduction Geomys personatus maritimus Davis (Maritime Pocket Gopher) is a fossorial rodent endemic to the coastal mainland of Nueces and Kleberg counties of southern Texas (Davis 1940, Williams 1982). Presently, Maritime Pocket Gophers occur on Naval Air Station–Corpus Christi property and in highly suburbanized areas of Corpus Christi and northern Padre Island. The Maritime Pocket Gopher prefers deep, sandy soils and avoids rocky, silt loam, and clay soils because of difficulty in excavation (Cortez et al. 2013, 2015; Kennerly 1958); the occurrence of these soils can create barriers for distributional expansion. Urbanization and agricultural conversion have greatly fragmented this already small tract of habitat, and invasion by exotic grasses has interfered with the gopher’s preferred diet of native grasses (Davis and Schmidly 1994). 1Department of Biological and Health Sciences, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Kingsville, TX 78363. 2Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, Department of Animal, Rangeland, and Wildlife Sciences, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Kingsville, TX 78363. *Corresponding author - Manuscript Editor: Michael Conner Southeastern Naturalist T.P. Hansler, S.E. Henke, H.L. Perotto-Baldivieso, J.A. Baskin, and C. Hilton 2017 Vol. 16, No. 4 604 The Maritime Pocket Gopher is considered a subspecies of G. personatus True (Texas Pocket Gopher); however, recent studies based on mtDNA (Henke et al. 2014), cytochrome-b studies (Sudman et al. 2006), and nuclear and mtDNA (Chambers et al. 2009) suggest that the Maritime Pocket Gopher could be a distinct species. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Defense have designated the Maritime Pocket Gopher as a species of concern (Hafner 2000) and a taxon at risk (NatureServe 2004), respectively. Pocket gophers are considered a nuisance because they dig burrows and create mounds in lawns, golf courses, athletic fields, city parks, land surrounding air-traffic runways, and landscaped properties of local businesses. Kill traps and poisons were once management options, but public opinion currently disfavors such practices (Reidinger and Miller 2013). Also, if the Maritime Pocket Gopher gains recognition as a distinct species, its status will change, they will have legal protection, and lethal methods for nuisance control will no longer be an alternative. Short-distance translocation, the transport of an animal to a location near its present home range (Hardy et al. 2001), may be a useful conservation option for species occurring in areas of development where human–wildlife conflict is unavoidable (Brown et al. 2009, Germano and Pearson 2009, Sealy 1997). However, research is lacking to determine the viability of short-distance translocation for Maritime Pocket Gophers. To our knowledge, the only attempt at pocket gopher translocation was employed for Thomomys mazama Merriam (Mazama Pocket Gopher), which was deemed successful despite significant mortality rates of translocated gophers (Stinson 2013). The navigational abilities of Maritime Pocket Gophers also are unknown but assumed to be comparable to other pocket gopher species. For instance, home range and average daily movements for male Thomomys bottae (Eydoux and Gervais) (Western Pocket Gopher) were 256 m2 (Howard and Childs 1959) and 113 m (Williams and Baker 1976), respectively. Typically, males travel farther than females (Williams and Baker 1976). In addition, Thomomys talpoides (Richardson) (Northern Pocket Gopher) was shown to use magnetic and olfactory cues in navigation (Cousins 2013). It is unknown if Maritime Pocket Gophers demonstrate homing ability, which, if they do, would negatively affect the success of translocation as a nuisance-control option. Therefore, our objective was to determine the efficacy of short-distance translocation as a non-lethal option to control property damage caused by Maritime Pocket Gophers. Field-site Description We captured Maritime Pocket Gophers in grasslands alongside roads and in manicured lawns of parks and private property in the Flour Bluff area of Corpus Christi, Nueces County, TX. The release site was a 16.2-ha residential property (27°38'33.92''N, 97°19'12.90''W) located in the center of the capture sites (Fig. 1). Mean capture-site distances from the release site (R) were: northeast (C1) = 421 m, southeast (C2) = 1704 m, southwest (C3) = 452 m, and northwest (C4) = 1588 m (Fig. 1). We selected this study-area configuration to be able to demonstrate that gophers were truly homing and not potentially moving due to the Earth’s magnetic Southeastern Naturalist 605 T.P. Hansler, S.E. Henke, H.L. Perotto-Baldivieso, J.A. Baskin, and C. Hilton 2017 Vol. 16, No. 4 field or by the position of the sun and stars. The area consisted of fine sandy– loam soil and was mainly a grassland consisting of Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers. (Bermuda Grass), Stenotaphrum secundatum (Walter Kuntze) (Saint Augustine Figure 1. Location of capture sites (C1–C4) and the release site (R) for short-distance translocated Maritime Pocket Gophers in the Flour Bluff area of Corpus Christi, Nueces County, TX, during autumn 2014. Southeastern Naturalist T.P. Hansler, S.E. Henke, H.L. Perotto-Baldivieso, J.A. Baskin, and C. Hilton 2017 Vol. 16, No. 4 606 Grass), Cenchrus ciliaris L. (Buffelgrass), Sorgham halepense (L.) Pers. (Johnson Grass), Panicum maximum Jacq. (Guinea Grass), and Cenchrus spinifex Cav. (Coastal Sandbur) with mottes of Quercus virginiana Mill. (Live Oak) interspersed throughout. The study site borders a 274-ha property owned by the US Navy (NALWaldron Field). Methods We identified active gopher burrows by the presence of newly established mounds. We set 9 x 9 x 23-cm Sherman live traps upside down in gopher burrows at the first bifurcation of the tunnel. We placed a moistened layer of soil on the bottom of each trap and baited the traps with cantaloupe to entice gophers to enter them. During September 2014, we trapped 15 Maritime Pocket Gophers—10 for relocation and 5 as controls—that ranged in weight from 206 g to 340 g (Table 1). We captured 3 gophers each from localities southeast and northeast of Table 1. Demographic data of Maritime Pocket Gophers used in short-distance translocation study during autumn 2014 in the Flour Bluff area of Corpus Christi, Nueces County, TX. Capture sites for Martitime Pocket Gophers were in grasslands and manicured lawns located northeast (C1), southeast (C2), southwest (C3), and northwest (C4) of the release (R) site. Control gophers were captured and returned to their site of capture (R). Implant types were (1) Sub-Q = subcutaneous within the post scapular region of the back or (2) IP = intraperitoneal in the abdomen. Release types were (1) hard = placed on the ground (no starter burrow or cover), (2) soft = placed in a 0.3 m deep starter burrow with a wire mesh cage placed over the hole, and (3) burrow = returned to their capture burrow within the ground. AED = average Euclidean distance between all possible pairs of gopher locations, based on calculation of Conner and Leopold (2001). * indicates gophers excluded from descriptive statistics for spatial parameters because too few locations were acquired due to gophers losing transmitters. Gopher Number capture Implant Release Weight of AED site Animal status type type Sex (g) locations (m) 1 C2 Translocated Sub-Q Soft F 209.3 15 6.0 2 C1 Translocated Sub-Q Hard F 278.6 17 4.2 3* C2 Translocated Sub-Q Soft F 293.0 6 4 C1 Translocated Sub-Q Hard F 229.6 46 2.3 5 C2 Translocated Sub-Q Soft M 273.7 13 4.6 6 C4 Translocated Sub-Q Hard F 215.2 19 3.8 7* C3 Translocated Sub-Q Soft F 252.4 8 8* C1 Translocated Sub-Q Hard M 242.4 9 9* C3 Translocated Sub-Q Soft F 255.4 4 10 C4 Translocated Sub-Q Hard M 280.8 16 1.3 11* R Control Sub-Q Burrow M 340.1 10 12 R Control Sub-Q Burrow F 232.9 42 3.1 13 R Control Sub-Q Burrow M 302.1 52 2.6 14 R Control Sub-Q Burrow M 205.5 23 13.6 15 R Control Sub-Q Burrow F 232.4 64 1.1 16 C1 Translocated IP Soft M 285.7 70 2.6 17 C2 Translocated IP Hard M 291.3 70 2.7 18 C3 Translocated IP Soft F 245.2 70 3.2 19 C4 Translocated IP Hard F 290.3 70 4.0 20 C1 Translocated IP Hard F 257.5 70 3.8 Southeastern Naturalist 607 T.P. Hansler, S.E. Henke, H.L. Perotto-Baldivieso, J.A. Baskin, and C. Hilton 2017 Vol. 16, No. 4 the release site, and 2 gophers each from locations northwest and southwest from the release site (Table 1, Fig. 1). We weighed, determined gender of, and placed all captured gophers in 114-l aquaria for individual transport to a nearby lab for transmitter implantation. We anesthetized the gophers with 3−5% isoflurane mixed with oxygen via a facemask and implanted subcutaneously 5-g, 8 mm x 18mm cylindrical radio transmitters (4-month life span; Wildlife Materials SOPI 2190, Wildlife Materials, Inc., Murphysboro, IL) in the post-scapular region (Connior and Risch 2009, Rado and Terkel 1989), and closed the incisions with surgical glue. Surgery time varied from 4.5 min to 8.5 min per gopher. We maintained the gophers in aquaria for 24 hr post-surgery to verify that the incision remained sealed and then transported them to the release site. During captivity, gophers were provided Purina Rabbit Chow (Land O’Lakes, Inc., St. Louis, MO), alfalfa hay, and water ad libitum. Due to the quantity of translocated gophers that lost transmitters from their scapular region within 2 weeks of release, we captured 5 additional gophers (2 males and 3 females), ranging in size from 245 g to 291 g, and intraperitoneally implanted similar transmitters as previously described. Surgical procedures and recovery were similar as previously described except that we made a 0.5-cm incision into the abdomen, inserted the transmitter, sutured the musculature of the abdominal wall, and sealed the skin with surgical glue. Surgery time for this group ranged from 7.5 min to 10.5 min per gopher. We selected the release site based on soil structure and habitat characteristics as determined by Cortez et al. (2013, 2015). Briefly, we chose a release site (1) with soils that consisted of ≥60% sand; (2) that was predominantly composed of native vegetation, Bermuda Grass, Buffelgrass, or Saint Augustine Grass; and (3) that was consistently mowed. In addition, because the release site contained resident gophers, we released translocated gophers in areas >40 m from recent mounds. Translocated gophers were released either on the surface (i.e., hard release; n = 8) or in a 0.3-m deep starter burrow (i.e, soft release; n = 7) with a wire cage placed over the hole (Table 1). Control gophers were returned to the tunnel where they were captured (n = 5). We recorded the time elapsed from release to when gophers began to dig and were completely buried. We located Maritime Pocket Gophers with a TRX-1000S receiver with a 3-element folding Yagi directional antenna (Wildlife Materials, Murphysboro, IL). Gophers were located 3−4 times per week in random order of four 6-hr time blocks/ day. We separated our location efforts by >40 h to ensure independence between successive observations (Swihart and Slade 1985). We tracked gophers for 4 months (life span of transmitter) or until transmitters were lost. We dug to retrieve potentially lost transmitters (i.e., unchanged locations for several consecutive monitoring attempts). We assumed that Maritime Pocket Gophers were directly under the strongest signal received on the ground surface. We recorded these locations with a hand-held Garmin etrex Venture GPS unit (accuracy less than 3 m; Garmin, Lenexa, KS). We used location data to estimate distance among individual locations and the capture site as well as the distance between successive locations. We calculated mean and standard error for the distance between the capture site and gopher Southeastern Naturalist T.P. Hansler, S.E. Henke, H.L. Perotto-Baldivieso, J.A. Baskin, and C. Hilton 2017 Vol. 16, No. 4 608 location for each translocated gopher. Translocation distances were not the same for each gopher. To calculate what we termed the average location distance (ALD), or the difference between (i) the average distance between a gopher’s relocations and its capture site, and (ii) the initial distance between capture and translocation sites, we used the formula ALD = di̅ - dit , where dit is the distance the ith gopher was moved from its capture site to its translocation site, and di̅ is the average distance between a gopher's relocations and its capture site (or average relocation distance), calculated with the equation mi di̅ = [Σdij] / mi , j = 1 where dij is the distance between the jth relocation and the initial capture location for the ith gopher (i = 1, 2, ..., n (number of gophers), j = 1, 2, …, mi (number of relocations for the ith gopher). We also calculated what we termed the last location difference (LLD), or the difference between the translocation distance and the last relocation distance for the ith gopher: LLD = dit - di1 , where dil = the distance from the last relocation to the capture site for the ith gopher. Negative values for ALD and LLD indicate a gopher moving toward their initial capture site. In addition, we drew a line between each translocated gopher’s capture site and release site, which we defined as the homing line. We analyzed location points for angle deviations from the homing line. We subtracted from 360o all angle-ofdeviation points with values between 180o and 360 o because angles approaching 360o were returning to the homing line. Gophers were considered to be homing if distances from location points to original site of capture became successively smaller and if angles to the homing line approached zero. We calculated the average Euclidian distance (AED) between all possible pairs of gopher locations as a measure of animal dispersion. For the majority of gophers, our sample size was less than 25 locations/gopher; thus, average Euclidean distance is considered a more appropriate measure because it is more precise and less biased than home range estimates (Conner and Leopold 2001). We employed spatial parameters of average daily movement, average angleof- movement from the homing line, AED, ALD, and LLD for descriptive purposes. We used a Student’s t-test to assess the effects of release type (i.e., soft versus hard) on time elapsed from release to when completely buried. We evaluated homogeneity of variances among treatments with the Bartlett’s test (Steel and Torrie 1980) and tested distributions of residual errors for normality via the Shapiro–Wilk test. We utilized chi-square analysis to test for differences in the frequency of transmitters lost due to body placement. We set significance at α < 0.05 for all tests. Results Of the 20 captured gophers (8 male, 12 female), we translocated 4 male and 7 female gophers for inclusion in analysis of movements. Five of 15 translocated Southeastern Naturalist 609 T.P. Hansler, S.E. Henke, H.L. Perotto-Baldivieso, J.A. Baskin, and C. Hilton 2017 Vol. 16, No. 4 gophers lost subcutaneous transmitters within 2 weeks of release and were not included in analyses. Gophers that were provided a soft release (n = 7) were quicker (F2,17 = 4.84; P < 0.031) at burrowing and burying themselves (mean = 2.6 ± 0.7 min) than control gophers (mean = 7.6 ± 1.7 min; n = 5) or gophers that experienced a hard release (mean = 6.2 ± 0.7 min; n = 8). No gopher experienced mortality during the release process. All of the original translocated gophers lost their transmitters within 4 months of implantation (mean = 36.2 ± 5.7 days; range = 20–112 days); only 2 of the 4 control gophers (χ2 = 5.91, df = 1, P less than 0.025) lost their transmitters (mean = 73.5 ± 22.3 days; range = 30–120 days). The 5 translocated gophers that were intraperitoneally implanted did not lose their transmitters. Translocated Maritime Pocket Gophers did not appear to exhibit homing or directionality toward capture sites (Table 2, Fig. 2). The LLDs varied from 63 m closer to 30 m farther. Tracked Maritime Pocket Gophers moved less than 5% of the distance needed to return to their capture sites. Average LLD were further from their respective capture sites than ALD measurements (Table 2). Deviation angles from the homing line varied from 90o to 138o (Table 2). Average daily movements appeared consistent between gophers except for the 2 female control gophers, which moved ~3 times the distance of the other gophers. Dispersion among gopher locations contained much overlap between treatments and gopher gender (Table 2). Table 2. Comparison of spatial parameters between treatments (i.e., short-distance translocation and control) and gender (male and female) for Maritime Pocket Gophers during autumn 2014 in the Flour Bluff area of Corpus Christi, Nueces County, TX. Spatial parameters consisted of average daily movement (m), average Euclidean distance (AED) between all possible pairs of gopher locations, average deviation angle of movement from the homing line (degrees), average difference between the initial translocation distance from distances of gopher locations and capture site (ALD), and the difference between the initial translocation distance from the distance of the last gopher location and capture site (LLD). Because control gophers were not relocated, measurements for deviation angles, ALD, and LLD were not possible. Distances are listed as toward (T; closer) or away (A; farther) from initial capture site. Male Female Spatial parameter Mean SE Min–max Mean SE Min–max Translocated gophers (n = 4 M, 7 F) Daily movement (m) 7.8 2.9 4.0–16.4 10.2 1.1 6.0–13.1 AED (m) 2.8 1.7 0.4–8.0 3.9 1.4 0.8–9.9 Deviation angle (°) 108.2 7.6 90–127 115.8 8.0 90–138 ALD (m) 6.6 (T) 14.8 50.5 (T)–13.2 (A) 18.7 (T) 9.3 63 (T)–2.3 (A) LLD (m) 3.8 (T) 19.4 60.0 (T)–28.7 (A) 15.2 (T) 11.3 63(T)–18.0 (A) Control gophers (n = 2 M, 2 F) Daily movement (m) 9.1 4.6 4.5–13.6 29.5 5.2 24.3–34.7 AED (m) 8.1 6.2 1.9–14.3 2.1 1.3 0.8–3.4 Deviation angle (°) - - - - - - ALD (m) - - - - - - LLD (m) - - - - - - Southeastern Naturalist T.P. Hansler, S.E. Henke, H.L. Perotto-Baldivieso, J.A. Baskin, and C. Hilton 2017 Vol. 16, No. 4 610 Discussion Translocation of Maritime Pocket Gophers appears to be a viable management option to deal with nuisance gophers. Translocated Maritime Pocket Gophers did not exhibit behaviors consistent with homing. Deviation angles demonstrated that gophers tended to move away from their homing lines. In addition, distances from location points to original sites of capture did not become successively shorter, as indicated by the LLD values, which were greater than the ALD measurements. Translocated gophers tended to remain near their release sites, suggesting that habitat needs were met at the release sites, and thus, gophers did not require great movements to fulfill their habitat requirements. We selected the release site because it had habitat characteristics preferred by Maritime Pocket Gophers, as outlined by Cortez et al. (2013, 2015). Obvious barriers, such as areas of clay soil, underground pipes, and highly developed areas that would preclude movement of gophers were not present except for those gophers captured at site C2 (Fig. 1). We selected this site to determine whether, if gophers did attempt to home, they could navigate around a barrier, such as an airfield runway. However, because gophers did not appear to “home”, we were unable to make this determination. Male gophers are known to travel substantially more than female gophers (Williams and Baker 1976), yet we found female gophers within our control group Figure 2. An example of 4 months of movements for a translocated Geomys personatus maritimus (Maritime Pocket Gopher (Geomys personatus maritimus) during 2014 in the Flour Bluff area of Corpus Christi, Nueces County, TX. The pink area is the home-range estimate determined by the 95% minimum convex polygon method, as calculated using BIOTAS 2.0a (Ecological Software Solutions) and used for descriptive purposes to highlight gopher movement; the pushpin is the translocation release site; and the line represents the homing line (the straight line direction to the original site of capture for the gopher). Southeastern Naturalist 611 T.P. Hansler, S.E. Henke, H.L. Perotto-Baldivieso, J.A. Baskin, and C. Hilton 2017 Vol. 16, No. 4 displayed greater daily movements. This finding could be an anomaly caused by the small sample size within our control group. Conversely, gophers, especially individuals in the genus Geomys, are fiercely aggressive and are considered a high-stress mammal (Baker et al. 2003). Gophers were present at the release site prior to our study. Perhaps another gopher usurped the burrow system of the female control gophers during their surgical absence, which caused the female control gophers to patrol their burrows more than the other gophers, thus resulting in greater movements. Subcutaneous implantation of transmitters within the scapular region is not recommended for Maritime Pocket Gophers. The majority (86%) of gophers lost their transmitters. Perhaps such placement of transmitters caused irritation or inhibited movement, especially digging behavior, which led to loss of transmitters. It is noteworthy that 3 gophers caught 3−5 months post translocation within the relocation site had scars within their scapular region, providing circumstantial evidence that at least some gophers survived the loss of their transmitters. In contrast, no gopher lost transmitters that were intraperitoneally implanted. Although intraperitoneal placement of transmitters reduced signal strength, such placement was necessary to conduct telemetry on this fossorial species. Thus, we recommend intraperitoneal placement of transmitters for future telemetry studies of Maritime Pocket Gophers. Our study provides evidence that short-distance translocation of Maritime Pocket Gophers has potential as a management option to contend with nuisance gophers. We observed no mortalities, and translocated animals tended to remain in the area of their release, at least in the short term. Longer-term studies of their survival, persistence, and successful reproduction in the release areas are needed to fully evaluate translocation as an option for nuisance Maritime Pocket Gophers, especially if Maritime Pocket Gophers receive species status and potentially are federally listed as threatened or as a species of concern. At that point, lethal removal of Maritime Pocket Gophers will no longer be a management option, and translocation of nuisance gophers will be needed to reduce human–gopher conflicts. Acknowledgements We thank the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute for financial support. We are also grateful to C. Hoskinson, J. Plata, and A. Flores for assistance with implantation surgeries and data collection. 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