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Active season microhabitat and vegetation selection by giant gartersnakes associated with a restored marsh in California

December 20, 2016

Studies of habitat selection can reveal important patterns to guide habitat restoration and management for species of conservation concern. Giant gartersnakes Thamnophis gigas are endemic to the Central Valley of California, where >90% of their historical wetland habitat has been converted to agricultural and other uses. Information about the selection of habitats by individual giant gartersnakes would guide habitat restoration by indicating which habitat features and vegetation types are likely to be selected by these rare snakes. We examined activity patterns and selection of microhabitats and vegetation types by adult female giant gartersnakes with radiotelemetry at a site composed of rice agriculture and restored wetlands using a paired case-control study design. Adult female giant gartersnakes were 14.7 (95% credible interval [CRI] = 9.4–23.7) times more likely to be active (foraging, mating, or moving) when located in aquatic habitats than when located in terrestrial habitats. Microhabitats associated with cover—particularly emergent vegetation, terrestrial vegetation, and litter—were positively selected by giant gartersnakes. Individual giant gartersnakes varied greatly in their selection of rice and rock habitats, but varied little in their selection of open water. Tules Schoenoplectus acutus were the most strongly selected vegetation type, and duckweed Lemna spp., water-primrose Ludwigia spp., forbs, and grasses also were positively selected at the levels of availability observed at our study site. Management practices that promote the interface of water with emergent aquatic and herbaceous terrestrial vegetation will likely benefit giant gartersnakes. Given their strong selection of tules, restoration of native tule marshes will likely provide the greatest benefit to these threatened aquatic snakes.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2016
Title Active season microhabitat and vegetation selection by giant gartersnakes associated with a restored marsh in California
DOI 10.3996/042016-JFWM-029
Authors Brian J. Halstead, Patricia Valcarcel, Glenn D. Wylie, Peter S. Coates, Michael L. Casazza, Daniel K. Rosenberg
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management
Index ID 70179147
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center

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