ESR 22:51-60 (2013)  -  doi:10.3354/esr00529

Conservation potential of prescribed fire for maintaining habitats and populations of an endangered rattlesnake Sistrurus c. catenatus

Martin Dovčiak1,*, Portia A. Osborne1,2, David A. Patrick1,3, James P. Gibbs1

1State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF), Syracuse, New York 13210, USA
2Present address: Blanton & Associates, Austin, Texas 78734, USA
3Present address: Paul Smith’s College, Paul Smiths, New York 12970, USA

ABSTRACT: Many endangered species rely on early successional habitats to complete parts of their life cycles. We examined whether prescribed fire can be used to aid in conservation of the endangered eastern massasauga rattlesnake Sistrurus catenatus catenatus Raf. by maintaining open-canopy early successional summer habitats that this species requires for thermoregulation (basking). Using a formal experimental design, we characterized vegetation, surface temperature, moisture, and snake occurrence in control and burned treatments before and after prescribed fire. Prescribed fire increased vegetative cover and thereby decreased ground temperature compared to pre-treatment and control conditions, whereas rattlesnake occurrence increased dramatically after the prescribed fire. A habitat suitability model indicated that snake presence was negatively affected by forb cover, which became more dominant relative to other vegetation in the absence of fire. Prescribed fire also increased the cover of legumes and maintained graminoid cover and high overall plant functional diversity—all of which decreased in the absence of fire. In conclusion, prescribed fire stimulated overall vegetation growth while promoting varied microhabitats that included greater proportions of graminoids and sufficient number of patches of bare ground, both locally associated with warmer temperatures and presence of this endangered species of rattlesnake.


KEY WORDS: Basking habitat conservation · Disturbance · Habitat management · Old field · Succession


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Cite this article as: Dovčiak M, Osborne PA, Patrick DA, Gibbs JP (2013) Conservation potential of prescribed fire for maintaining habitats and populations of an endangered rattlesnake Sistrurus c. catenatus. Endang Species Res 22:51-60

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