SNAKE ASSEMBLAGE STRUCTURES AND SEASONAL ACTIVITY PATTERNS ON A MILITARY BASE IN SOUTH-CENTRAL PENNSYLVANIA:
LAND MANAGEMENT IMPLICATIONS FOR SNAKE CONSERVATION
Keywords:conservation, ecology, Pennsylvania, snakes
We ascertained the assemblage structures of snakes occurring in a mixed habitat matrix of natural and disturbed habitats during 2008–2011 at Letterkenny Army Depot (LEAD), a 7200 ha U.S. Army base in south-central Pennsylvania, to understand the patterns of species abundance as they related to habitat type of managed lands. We detected eight species in 12 sites comprising natural and disturbed habitats of wetlands, forest, and thicket and open fields. The Common Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis) occurred in the most sites, the Red-bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) was the rarest species in the study. Two to six species occupied each site and were distributed unevenly. Dynamics of assemblages could be explained in part by habitat and also by the presence of the North American Racer (Coluber constrictor). All species for which data were available exhibited a unimodal pattern to their seasonal activity (mostly May and June); however, seasonal activity peaks differed between sexes. Sex ratios varied among species but were consistently female–biased in the Common Gartersnake and Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus) in Pennsylvania and surrounding areas. As elsewhere in Pennsylvania and the Northeast, body sizes of adults were larger for species syntopic with the North American Racer than for species not syntopic with this potential predator. We found a degree of predictability with respect to snake assemblage dynamics among habitats at LEAD, which in turn can prove useful in resource management of this large and protected human-impacted system.
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