© J.D. Willson – Updated 2019
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Aquatic Snake Population and Community Dynamics

Snakes comprise an important component of biodiversity and are functionally important as predators and prey in many ecosystems. Further, many snakes are thought to be rare or declining and are thus are of high conservation concern. However, the secretive behavior of most snakes makes them notoriously difficult to study and the status or most snake populations remains unknown. More generally, little is known about the factors that are important driving snake population and community dynamics in any system.

 

Fortunately, many populations of semi-aquatic snakes share a suite of characteristics that make them ideal for population and community ecology research: 1) they occur at high abundances; 2) they can be sampled effectively using aquatic traps, affording systematic sampling and relatively high capture probabilities; 3) population are often discrete and easily defined (eg isolated ponds or wetlands); and 4) they are often subjected to obvious climate-driven variation in habitat quality and resource availability. We take advantage of these characteristics by using semiaquatic snake populations to examine a variety of questions in snake population and community ecology. Typically, we use high intensity standardized sampling using aquatic traps and advanced analysis of capture data to examine trends in occupancy, abundance, vital rates, and demography of semi-aquatic snakes in response to biotic and abiotic factors. Much of this work has focused on snakes inhabiting isolated wetland ecosystems in the Southeast, especially those on the Savannah River Site, South Carolina.  However, we have recently expanded this research to prairie-wetland systems in Arkansas.

Research Areas:

  • Using intensive field sampling and novel mark-recapture techniques to evaluate aquatic snake population and community dynamics in relation to drought cycles and prey availability

  • Occupancy modeling to explore factors that influence aquatic snake communities at landscape scales

  • Developing novel sampling and analytical methods for estimating snake vital rates and understanding snake population dynamics

  • Using stable isotope tracers to explore reproductive allocation strategies in black swamp snakes

  • Understanding the natural history of poorly-known aquatic species such as Swamp (Liodytes spp.), Crayfish (Regina spp.), Mud and Rainbow Snakes (Farancia spp.)

Publications:

Primary Collaborators and Students:

Chris Winne, Melissa Pilgrim, Andrew Durso, Phil Vogrinc, Tracey Tuberville, Whit Gibbons

Partners & Funding Sources:

  • Savannah River Ecology Lab (UGA)

  • University of Arkansas

  • National Science Foundation (GRF to JDW)