The effects of disturbance, including prescribed fire, vary among species and their ability to adjust to the altered environment. Our objective was to link fire-caused habitat changes with shifts in habitat use and behavioral changes in the Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus). We compared habitat availability between burned (experimental) and unburned (control) plots and used radio telemetry to evaluate snake behavior and habitat use. The numerical abundance of C. constrictor in burned habitat was nearly twice that in the control. In both treatments, C. constrictor was associated with areas that were more open, had less canopy cover, more new vegetative growth, and less, shallower leaf litter. However, the availability of these habitats was greater in the burn treatment. Snakes were more surface active in the burn treatment and tended to be more arboreal in the control treatment. Differences in available habitat may have caused an increase in surface activity in the burn treatment, which could have biased detection rates and created higher apparent abundance in the burned treatment. Females moved more often in the control treatment, which may be due to a lack of preferred thermal habitat and reproductive thermoregulatory demands. Ultimately, fire changed habitat availability and altered the movement rates and behavior of C. constrictor causing ecological effects that may not be detected when researchers only compare abundance.
Effects of a Landscape Disturbance on the Habitat Use and Behavior of the Black Racer
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Christopher A. F. Howey, Matthew B. Dickinson, Willem M. Roosenburg; Effects of a Landscape Disturbance on the Habitat Use and Behavior of the Black Racer. Copeia 1 December 2016; 104 (4): 853–863. doi: https://doi.org/10.1643/CE-15-373
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