UGA HomeSREL HomeSavannah River Ecology Laboratory
Herpetology Program
Herp Home
Herps of SC/GA

Landscape Level Research on the Little Pee Dee River in South Carolina: Herpetofauna and Forest Management

Michael E. Dorcas and J. Whitfield Gibbons



Sound land management practices are required to maintain biodiversity without reducing the economic benefits of natural resource use. An important concern within the forest products industry that must be addressed for herpetofauna is how various management approaches, including harvesting, site preparation, and planting, affect short- and long-term biodiversity and population status. To address this concern, the following proposed research questions were developed to investigate the status of reptiles and amphibians of the Southeastern Coastal Plain with emphasis on reptile and amphibian species of South Carolina.


  • What is the biodiversity of herpetofauna in managed forest communities and how does it differ from unmanaged habitats?
  • How important is the transition zone between wetland habitats (such as Carolina bays and bottomland floodplains) and upland forest habitats?
  • What are the effects of site preparation on reptiles and amphibians inhabiting wetlands and the peripheral terrestrial habitats?
  • Do species of Special Concern, including those being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act, inhabit the sites under study?
  • What environmental or management approaches affect the variability in herpetofaunal biodiversity and abundance of particular species in the coastal plain landscape?
Researcher checking drift fence

Researcher checking drift fence

Researchers talk to students about herp biodiversity

Researchers talk to students about herp biodiversity

Researcher checking turtle trap

Researcher checking turtle trap


To answer the questions posed above, we conducted a broad-scale herpetofaunal survey of the Woodbury Tract during 1996 to examine in detail the different habitat types found on the tract and to determine the species of amphibians and reptiles occurring in those habitats. We have used a variety of techniques including: road cruising, coverboards, minnow traps, turtle traps, drift fences, general collecting, calling surveys, and automated recording systems to examine the herpetofaunal biodiversity of the Woodbury Tract. Over 500 animal observations/captures have been made thus far resulting in at total of 62 species of amphibians and reptiles in habitats of different management stages. For each observation we recorded the date, time, UTMís, and habitat characteristics. Additionally, voucher specimens have been collected representing most species and will be deposited in the Smithsonian Institution. Observation/capture data will be incorporated with GIS coverages provided by International Paper to examine the distribution of amphibians and reptiles on the Tract. Notable finds include the most northern known population of river frogs (Rana heckscheri), the pine snake (Pituophis melanoleucus) and large populations of striped mud turtles (Kinosternon baurii), all of which are species of special concern in South Carolina.

The broad-scale survey conducted during 1996 also allowed us to develop a scheme by which we will examine statistically the species diversity and relative abundances of amphibians and reptiles in the major habitat types.

To statistically examine the effects of management practices on amphibians and reptiles, we have established replicated plots (4 replicates) in three different upland habitat types (clear cut, 10-12 yr old stand, and mixed hardwood-pine). We have set up drift fences with funnel, box, and pitfall traps in each to sample the amphibians and reptiles that occur in each habitat. Additionally, we are using coverboards and time-constrained searches to sample these habitats.

To compare the species diversity and relative abundances of reptiles and amphibians inhabiting upland wetlands and bottomland wetlands on the Woodbury Tract we will sample using minnow and turtle traps, automated recording systems, and coverboards. Four wetland sites of each type have been selected for sampling which will allow statistical analysis of the data.

Sampling began in all plots in January 1997 and will continue until Fall 1998.

Return to SREL Herpetology Research