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Reproductive frequency and size-dependence of fecundity in the Giant Gartersnake (Thamnophis gigas)

April 30, 2018

How reproductive output changes with age or size is a key life-history trait that can affect which demographic rates most influence population growth. Although many studies have investigated the reproductive ecology of gartersnakes, we know little about reproduction in the threatened Giant Gartersnake, Thamnophis gigas. We used X-radiography to determine reproductive status and estimated fecundity for 73 female T. gigas collected from several regions within the range of this species in the Sacramento Valley of California, USA, and synthesize these data with data from litters born in captivity to improve our understanding of reproduction in this species. Average total litter size determined from X-rays (15.9) and captive-born litters (15.5) are within the ranges reported from other gartersnakes, but captive-born litters had high rates of stillbirth. Only 154 of 202 neonates from captive snakes were born alive, and seven of 13 litters contained at least one stillborn neonate. We found that fecundity was positively related to maternal snout-vent length, and some evidence that larger litters contained smaller neonates. The proportion of X-rayed females that were gravid was 0.50 in 2014, 0.47 in and 2015, and 0.64 in 2016. Central California experienced an exceptional drought from 2012–2015, which may have affected the reproductive output and frequency of T.  gigas. Our estimates of reproductive frequency and size-dependent fecundity in T. gigas provide valuable information that can be used in demographic models of this threatened species. Our results demonstrate that X-radiography is a useful, minimally invasive means to study fecundity in wild populations of snakes.

Publication Year 2018
Title Reproductive frequency and size-dependence of fecundity in the Giant Gartersnake (Thamnophis gigas)
Authors Jonathan P. Rose, Julia Ersan, Glenn D. Wylie, Michael L. Casazza, Brian J. Halstead
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Herpetological Conservation and Biology
Index ID 70205206
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center