Occupancy of Potential Overwintering Habitat on Protected Lands by Two Imperiled Snake Species in the Coastal Plain of the Southeastern United States

Javan M. Bauder*, Dirk J. Stevenson, Christopher S. Sutherland, Christopher L. Jenkins

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Eastern Indigo Snakes (EIS, Drymarchon couperi) and Eastern Diamondbacked Rattlesnakes (EDB, Crotalus adamanteus) are species of conservation concern, in large part attributable to anthropogenic landscape changes within the southeastern Coastal Plain of North America. Both species use Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) burrows on xeric sandhills for winter retreat sites. Protected lands play an important role in the conservation of threatened species by offering the potential to conserve potentially limiting resources such as sandhills. We surveyed 40 randomly selected xeric sandhills containing Gopher Tortoise burrows on protected lands throughout the Lower Altamaha River Watershed in southern Georgia using visual encounter surveys over three winters (November through March). We used single-season occupancy models to relate detection and occupancy rates to survey- and site-specific covariates collected at both the sandhill- and landscape-scale. Eastern Indigo Snake occupancy was positively related to the number of Gopher Tortoise burrows and the amount of surrounding sandhill habitat. In contrast, EDB occupancy was not associated with any of the covariates we considered, perhaps because EDB/EIS use a greater diversity of winter retreat sites. Detection of EIS was higher than EDB (0.40 vs. 0.22) and most influenced by air temperature, whereas EDB detection was most influenced by survey date. Our study provides previously lacking population-level detection rates and habitat associations for EIS and corroborates the previously noted importance of Gopher Tortoise burrows as overwintering retreat sites. Our study also illustrates the potential shortcomings of monitoring multiple species using survey methodologies designed for a single species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-88
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Herpetology
Volume51
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017

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