Snake cover board near artificial wetland

Studies of a snake assemblage from artificial ponds at an active-military site in Pennsylvania

Daniel F. Hughes, Pablo R. Delis, Walter E. Meshaka Jr.


Biotic declines in natural environments are increasing globally, and optimizing management strategies in protected areas may be the best strategy to mitigate losses. Researchers should emphasize population-level responses to habitat modification practices in protected areas to ensure portions of the remaining biotas are successfully managed for the future. In order to accomplish this conservation goal, baseline information regarding the use of artificial habitats by wildlife is an essential first step. To that end, we examined the assemblage structures of snake species occupying artificial wetlands during the active season of 2012 (April–October) at Letterkenny Army Depot (LEAD), located in Franklin County, south-central Pennsylvania, USA. This protected site is an active U.S. Army installation with natural resources and management practices representative of protected sites across the state. Standardized cover board sampling and opportunistic searches were employed on a monthly basis. Five species were detected across four artificial wetlands of various sizes: Common Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis; n = 49), Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon; n = 18), Eastern Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum; n = 4), North American Racer (Coluber constrictor; n = 1), and Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus; n = 1). Although from a limited sample, we found that the assemblage structures and selected life-history traits were similar to those of other snake populations in Pennsylvania. Future studies that incorporate natural wetlands as references will be the most effective to evaluate population-level responses to habitat modification, and our results on the Common Gartersnake suggest that this species can be used as a benchmark for future rapid assessments of artificial-wetland use by snakes in Pennsylvania’s protected areas.

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