Habitat selection by Common Gartersnakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) is affected by vegetation structure but not by location of Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens) prey
Keywords:Common Gartersnake, Thamnophis sirtalis, Northern Leopard Frog, Lithobates pipiens, eastern Ontario, habitat selection, habitat structure, prey, predator, wetland
Understanding the factors affecting habitat selection of species is important for effective management and for conservation because habitat selection affects fitness. We tested the competing, but not mutually exclusive, hypotheses that habitat selection of Common Gartersnakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) at a fine spatial scale is driven by vegetation structure or by Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens) prey abundance. We conducted surveys for snakes and frogs in six, 1-ha study grids in eastern Ontario in 2014 and 2015. Common Gartersnakes used areas dominated by forbs more than expected based on availability, and used grassy areas less than expected based on availability. Gartersnakes showed no preference for sites with more frogs. Thus, vegetation structure is important in habitat selection of Common Gartersnakes, but Northern Leopard Frog abundance is not. Common Gartersnakes and Northern Leopard Frogs did have a preference for forbs, but gartersnakes do not appear to be using habitat specifically based on frog abundance at a fine scale. Future work should study habitat use by snakes over a longer period to account for high variability in frog abundance and for temporal changes in habitat structure. Future work should also examine the distribution of other prey items in relation to the distribution of snakes.
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