Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Buffer Zones For Snakes in Agricultural Landscapes

The Eastern Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis. JCM
Roadside shoulders covered with vegetation, and gallery vegetation growing along streams that run through agricultural fields can act as buffers and corridors for wildlife. These linear strips of habitat are all that remains for hundreds of thousands of square miles that have been turned into the breadbasket for America. Land management agencies in the United States promote conservation buffer strips as beneficial to wildlife populations but little is known about how snake use these habitats, Knoot and Best (2011) evaluated the influence of buffer design, management, and surrounding landscape characteristics on snake occurrence in gallery grasslands along waterways in southeastern Iowa. They documented snakes in about 80% of the areas and captured 119 individuals representing five species (Storeria dekayi, Thamnophis sirtalis, Thamnophis radix, Liochlorophis (=Opheodrys) vernalis, Elaphe (=Pantherophis) vulpina). The Smooth Green Snake (Liochlorophis vernalis), is listed as a species of concern in Iowa. The width of the waterway was the best predictor of snake presence for three of the five species. The Plains Garter Snake was most often in grass-lined waterways farther from wooded habitat; a finding that is consistent with the observation that Plains Garter Snakes are more often found in open habitats; while the Smooth Green Snake was more often associated with waterways with greater plant litter cover but the reverse was the habitat most often assocaited with the Eastern Garter Snake. Most research on buffers in agricultural has focused habitat for birds and butterflies, but this project suggests that snakes can also be managed in these narrow buffer zones of habitat. This paper is available on-line.

Citation
Knoot, T. G. and L. B. Best. 2011. A multiscale approach to understanding snake use of conservation buffer strips in an agricultural landscape. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 6:191-201.

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