Habitat use and movement patterns of juvenile black ratsnakes (Elaphe obsoleta) and their conservation implications

  • Bjorgan L
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Abstract

The central goal of this study was to describe the habitat use and movement patterns of juvenile black ratsnakes and contrast them to those of adults to identify any ontogenetic changes that should be included in the management plan of the species. My results indicated a clear ontogenetic shift in the movement patterns and spatial ecology of black ratsnakes. I found that daily and seasonal movements, home range size and fidelity, behaviour, and fidelity to over-wintering sites all vary with size. The results suggested that juvenile black ratsnakes, especially males, may be in a dispersal stage. If juveniles are playing a significant role in maintaining gene flow through dispersal, then adequate protection requires sufficient protected habitat to allow juvenile dispersal. I also showed that juveniles rarely attend communal hibernacula and often switch between hibernacula. Therefore, habitat to be protected cannot simply be defined as a fixed radius around a communal hibernaculum because many juveniles do not attend these communal hibernacula. This study reinforces the importance of understanding ontogenetic changes in the ecology of species of conservation concern. Insight into an ontogenetic shift in habitat use would be essential for sound management of any species where juveniles have more specific structural needs than adults, due to intense predation risk, specific prey requirements, etc. Ontogenetic shifts in movement patterns and spatial ecology have to be considered in management decisions. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

Author-supplied keywords

  • 0329:Ecology
  • 0472:Zoology
  • Biological sciences
  • Ecology
  • Zoology

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Authors

  • Laura Bjorgan

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