Snake species distributions and temperate grasslands: A case study from the American tallgrass prairie
Many snake species are declining globally, yet data unavailability in temperate grasslands hinders snake conservation in one of the world's most endangered biomes. To encourage and inform the conservation of snakes in these regions, I examined snake species diversity and abundance during 2 years of a mark-recapture study at 22 sites located in six American tallgrass prairie preserves in northern Illinois, USA. I emphasized landscape-scale relationships after accounting for covariance with environmental factors at both finer (microhabitat) and broader (regional) scales. A total of 120 snakes representing seven species was captured using drift fence arrays associated with funnel traps and sheet metal cover. The low numbers and diversity of snakes captured, when compared to historic evidence, indicate that since the 1930s Midwestern snake populations have declined. Non-metric multidimensional scaling and Mantel tests demonstrate that differences in snake species composition in remnant and degraded prairies are discernable along gradients of urban and agricultural land cover. However, different patterns of abundance for individual snake species indicate that the relative importance of specific landscape factors differ among species, which has significant conservation implications. Here, I recommend that conservationists use a species-specific approach to manage snake populations. I also stress the need for thorough inventory of snake populations and studies of snake-habitat relationships to advance our understanding of snake ecology and conservation within the little studied temperate grassland habitats of South America and eastern Eurasia. © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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