Habitat Associations of Reptile and Amphibian Communities in Longleaf Pine Habitats of South Mississippi
Land managers and biologists do not yet thoroughly understand the habitat associations of herpetofauna native to longleaf pine forests in southern Mississippi. From 2004 to 2006, we surveyed the herpetofauna of 24 longleaf pine communities in 12 counties in south Mississippi. We quantified herpetofaunal diversity, relative abundance, and a suite of habitat variables for each site to address the following objectives: (1) determine what levels of habitat heterogeneity exist in longleaf pine forests in south Mississippi; (2) determine if reptile and amphibian community composition differs among these sites; and (3) if habitat-faunal differences exist among sites, identify what habitat variables are driving these community differences. Multivariate analysis identified three distinct longleaf pine habitat types, differing primarily in soil composition and percentage canopy cover of trees. Canonical correspondence analysis indicated that canopy cover, basal area, percentage grass in the understory, and soil composition (percentage sand, silt, and clay) were the predominant variables explaining community composition at these sites. Many species exhibited associations with some or all of these habitat variables. The significant influence of these habitat variables, especially basal area and canopy cover, upon herpetofaunal communities in south Mississippi indicates the importance of incorporating decreased stand density into management practices for longleaf pine habitat.