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Research article2012Peer reviewed

Agricultural by-products provide critical habitat components for cold-climate populations of an oviparous snake (Natrix natrix)

Löwenborg K, Kärvemo S, Tiwe A, Hagman M


Populations of snakes and other reptiles are declining worldwide. Habitat loss and degradation is thought to be a significant factor in these declines, so to improve management strategies it is important to increase our understanding of reptilian habitat requirements. Modern agriculture is abandoning the tradition of gathering compost and manure in large heaps. Consequently these unusually warm environments are disappearing from the landscape. This may imperil populations of grass snakes (Natrix natrix) that rely on these anthropogenic heat sources to incubate their eggs. We conducted a relocation experiment to examine if eggs can develop successfully in other more natural environments that grass snakes potentially could utilize in the absence of manure heaps and compost piles. We found that hatching success was high (71 %) when we placed eggs in manure heaps and non-existent (0 %) when we placed them in potential ‘natural' nests. Placement in compost piles resulted in intermediate (43 %) hatching success. Eggs in manure heaps hatched earlier than eggs in compost piles and thermal data from the nests showed that temperatures were higher and more stable in manure heaps than in compost piles and potential ‘natural' nests. Jointly these results suggest that manure heaps generally provide a better nesting habitat than compost piles, attributable to thermal differences between the environments. Our findings facilitate improvement of current management strategies and have implications for conservation of oviparous reptiles in general.

Published in

Biodiversity and Conservation
2012, Volume: 21, number: 10, pages: 2477-2488

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