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Intrinsic prey preference and selection of the giant gartersnake: A threatened predator in a nonnative prey-dominated community

March 12, 2020

The introduction of exotic species into an environment can introduce great change in the trophic dynamics of native species. This is of even greater concern if the native species is of conservation concern. The giant gartersnake, Thamnophis gigas, an endemic predator of the Central Valley of California and a species of conservation concern at the state and federal levels, has declined as a result of conversion of its once vast wetland habitat to agriculture. Another anthropogenic factor contributing to this snake's changing ecology is the introduction of nonnative prey into the species' habitats. These introductions have resulted in a prey community that is almost completely composed of exotic species and have potential for considerable effects. In order to assess prey preference and selection we performed three sets of behavioral trials on naïve neonates. We examined 1) neonate prey preference in response to olfactory cues of prepared prey extracts, 2) neonate consumption of different live prey items presented simultaneously; and 3) terrestrial feeding behavior and/or latency to successful attack. Results from the olfactory study suggest that native Sierran treefrogs, Pseudacris sierra, are preferred by neonates. Results from consumption trials suggest that neonates are more likely to select frog species than fish species. This is the first study that we are aware of that examines prey selection of this threatened species and serves to inform its conservation and management.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2020
Title Intrinsic prey preference and selection of the giant gartersnake: A threatened predator in a nonnative prey-dominated community
DOI 10.3996/062019-JFWM-051
Authors Julia Ersan, Brian J. Halstead, Erica L Wildy, Michael L. Casazza, Glenn D. Wylie
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management
Series Number
Index ID 70217317
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center