Small reserves around hibernation sites may not adequately protect mobile snakes: the example of Great Basin Gophersnakes (Pituophis catenifer deserticola) in British Columbia

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Abstract:

A common strategy for reptile conservation is to establish reserves around nesting or hibernation sites. The government of British Columbia, Canada, mandates protection of 200–300 ha wildlife habitat areas (WHAs) around hibernation sites of the federally threatened Great Basin Gophersnakes (Pituophis catenifer deserticola Stejneger, 1893), but practical constraints result in a mean size of 193 ha. To evaluate the efficacy of this reserve size, we radio-tracked 39 adult Gophersnakes at four study sites in the Okanagan Valley in 2006 and 2007. Home ranges averaged 10.5 ± 1.7 ha. The maximum distance traveled from a hibernation site was 2400 m, whereas the maximum distance dispersed averaged 520 ± 65 m. An idealized circular WHA of 193 ha with the hibernation site at the centre would be large enough to contain Gophersnake home ranges, but the dispersal data show that only 85% of snakes would stay within that area. Small or asymmetrical WHAs likely protect even fewer Gophersnake locations. We recommend that WHAs be expanded if possible because the high mobility of Gophersnakes suggests that current reserves may not offer adequate protection.

Keywords: British Columbia; Colombie-Britannique; Great Basin Gophersnake; Pituophis catenifer deserticola; couleuvre à nez mince du Grand Basin; domaine vital; déplacements; home range; movements; reserve size; taille des réserves; wildlife habitat areas; zones d’habitat faunique

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1139/z11-136

Affiliations: 1: Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Science, Institute for Species at Risk and Habitat Studies, University of British Columbia Okanagan, 3333 University Way, Kelowna, BC V1V 1V7, Canada. 2: Science and Technology Branch, Environment Canada, 5421 Robertson Road, Delta, BC V2Z 1V7, Canada.

Publication date: March 2, 2012

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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