Northern Snakes Appear Much More Abundant in Old Fields than in Forests
Keywords:Habitat selection, behavioural thermoregulation, Common Gartersnake, Thamnophis sirtalis, Red-bellied Snake, Storeria occipitomaculata, population density, Gatineau Park
Temperature is one of the most important factors regulating habitat selection by ectotherms. Through behavioural thermoregulation, reptiles maintain preferred body temperatures and thereby maximize fitness. At northern latitudes, small colubrids appear to use forest habitat rarely because of thermal constraints. In cool environments, open habitats such as old fields offer more favourable thermal conditions than forest. We studied two northern colubrid snakes, Red-bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) and Common Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis), in Gatineau Park, Quebec, Canada, to test the hypothesis that small northern snakes are more abundant in open than in closed habitats because open habitats provide better opportunities for thermoregulation. Snakes were sampled using large arrays of tin and plywood coverboards. Snakes were indeed much more abundant in old fields than in forest, and fields offered more favourable thermal conditions. Most snakes were captured in spring and summer (May to August) when temperatures were highest. Storeria occipitomaculata preferred tin over plywood coverboards. We confirmed an apparent strong preference for open habitats in northern snakes.
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