Wilds to Woodlands
Saturday, Birmingham Botanical Gardens hosted the Birmingham Zoo and Ernie, a 20-year-old gopher tortoise. Ernie plays a very important role in the wild. The gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is a keystone species in his native habitat, which means Ernie’s ability to burrow tunnels in the sandy soil of Alabama’s longleaf pine forest provides shelter for over 300 other species.
The longleaf pine forest ecosystem of Alabama made up the majority of the Coastal Plain physiographic section of Alabama, which covers much of the lower portion of the state. It was excluded only from the Black Belt and northwest portions of the state. North of the Black Belt, longleaf pine forest could be found on dry ridgetops in the Piedmont, Valley and Ridge, Cumberland Plateau and Highland Rim physiographic sections as far north as Marshall, Etowah and DeKalb counties. These ridgetop longleaf forests are typically called mountain longleaf forests. Native to the southeastern United States, the longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) grows from Virginia to Texas, inhabiting a variety of sites from very dry to seasonally wet areas. Its original range has been shapely reduced because of agriculture, harvesting and fire suppression.
Because of the dramatic reduction to the longleaf pine ecosystems, the Gopher Tortoise is now listed as a “threatened” species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
To learn more about upcoming collaborations between Birmingham Botanical Gardens and the Birmingham Zoo in the “Wilds to Woodlands” program, visit www.bbgardens.org/weekends.