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Response of a Reptile Guild to Forest Harvesting

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Despite the growing concern over reptile population declines, the effects of modern industrial silviculture on reptiles have been understudied, particularly for diminutive and often overlooked species such as small-bodied snakes. We created 4 replicated forest-management landscapes to determine the response of small snakes to forest harvesting in the Coastal Plain of the southeastern United States. We divided the replicated landscapes into 4 treatments that represented a range of disturbed habitats: clearcut with coarse woody debris removed; clearcut with coarse woody debris retained; thinned pine stand; and control (unharvested second-growth planted pines). Canopy cover and ground litter were significantly reduced in clearcuts, intermediate in thinned forests, and highest in unharvested controls. Bare soil, maximum air temperatures, and understory vegetation all increased with increasing habitat disturbance. Concomitantly, we observed significantly reduced relative abundance of all 6 study species (scarletsnake[Cemophora coccinea], ring-neck snake[Diadophis punctatus], scarlet kingsnake[Lampropeltis triangulum], red-bellied snake[Storeria occipitomaculata], southeastern crowned snake[Tantilla coronata], and smooth earthsnake[Virginia valeriae]) in clearcuts compared with unharvested or thinned pine stands. In contrast, the greatest relative snake abundance occurred in thinned forest stands. Our results demonstrate that at least one form of forest harvesting is compatible with maintaining snake populations. Our results also highlight the importance of open-canopy structure and ground litter to small snakes in southeastern forests and the negative consequences of forest clearcutting for small snakes.
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Keywords: Tantilla coronata; Virginia valeriae; clearcutting; corte de clareo; efectos de la tala; forest management; forest thinning; gestión forestal; logging; logging effects; reptil; reptile; serpiente; snake; tala; tala de reducción

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia, Drawer E, Aiken, SC 29802, U.S.A.

Publication date: June 1, 2008

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