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Survival and establishment of captive-reared and translocated giant gartersnakes after release

February 16, 2023

Many imperiled species face increasing extinction risk that requires interventional management like translocation or captive rearing. The use of translocations to successfully restore or create populations requires that animals survive at recipient sites, information that is often lacking for imperiled species and that can be risky to acquire if not obtained before a species has dwindled in number. The giant gartersnake (Thamnophis gigas), a semiaquatic snake endemic to the Central Valley in California, USA, has declined after losing >90% of its historical habitat and may benefit from successful translocations to protected habitat. We released adult and captive-reared juvenile snakes from 2 donor sites into a recently restored wetland in 2019 and 2020 and compared their survival, movement, and activity using radio-telemetry through 2021. We monitored juvenile survival for 2 years in captivity after birth and then estimated post-release survival at the recipient site using radio-telemetry. Just 8% of translocated adult snakes survived >801 days (95% CI = 1–64%) compared with 39% of resident snakes at the donor sites surviving >1,154 days (95% CI = 23–68%). This equated to annualized survival rates of translocated adults ( = 0.32, 95% CI = 0.12–0.82) that were roughly half that of resident snakes (= 0.74, 95% CI = 0.63–0.89). Translocation was negatively correlated with survival, but movement and activity received little support in models. Seventy-six percent of juvenile snakes survived captivity and, once released, juvenile survival was 60% (95% CI = 38–94%) for the 4-month monitoring period before winter. It is unclear why survival of translocated adult snakes was lower than that of resident snakes, but there was little evidence for differences in behavior (e.g., increased surface activity, average distance moved, emigration from the translocation site) that are commonly cited causes of mortality in other translocation studies. Our results suggest that, in the absence of a clear understanding as to what contributes to adult survival after release to a new site, future work using captive-rearing and juvenile translocation may be more promising for establishing and recovering populations than just translocating adults given the high survival of juveniles.

Publication Year 2023
Title Survival and establishment of captive-reared and translocated giant gartersnakes after release
DOI 10.1002/jwmg.22374
Authors Allison M. Nguyen, Brian D Todd, Brian J. Halstead
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Wildlife Management
Index ID 70240942
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center