Assessment of fall season habitat and coverboard use by snakes in a restored tallgrass prairie community
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Copyright (c) 2023 Travis Robbins, Carter Dollen, Tracy Coleman
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We assessed habitat use and preference with respect to artificial coverboards for the snake community of a restored tallgrass prairie. Coverboards offer herpetofauna protection from predators and space to thermoregulate their body temperature. These covers also create microhabitats that differ from their surrounding habitat. We placed plywood and metal coverboards along a transect that crossed from prairie floodplain into upland prairie. Coverboards were checked over a three-week period during the fall season, during morning, afternoon, and dusk. Snake species were identified and counted, and ambient temperatures and humidity were checked under each coverboard. We found four snake species across the habitat gradient, common gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis), plains gartersnake (T. radix), Dekay’s brownsnake (Storeria dekayi), and Western foxsnake (Pantherophis ramspotti). Species richness was greatest in the floodplain habitat and microhabitat associated with metal coverboards. The floodplain habitat was also the habitat predominantly used by common gartersnake and Dekay’s brownsnake. Dekay’s brownsnakes, furthermore, preferred utilizing metal coverboards over wood. The composition of snake species we observed suggests that the restoration efforts on this tallgrass prairie system have attracted some grassland snake species, but the possibility of a greater snake community remains. Our data suggest that using metal coverboards during the cooler active seasons, such as fall and spring, will increase capture success and more efficiently sample snake communities. Studies such as ours to better understand habitat and coverboard use will result in more efficient sampling of herpetofauna for conservation and monitoring efforts.
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