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Behavioral and life history responses of eastern massasauga rattlesnakes (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) to human disturbance
- Parent, C., Weatherhead, P.J.
- Oecologia 2000 v.125 no.2 pp. 170-178
- Sistrurus catenatus, adults, conservation areas, gravid females, habitats, humans, life history, litter size, males, parks, radio telemetry, recreation, snakes, wildlife, Ontario
- Parks and nature reserves protect important natural habitats but also provide public opportunities for outdoor recreational activities that may have unintended negative effects on wildlife. We examined the response of eastern massasauga rattlesnakes (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) to inadvertent disturbance by humans in Killbear Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada. Radio telemetry of 25 adult snakes over two active seasons revealed that, as disturbance increased, gravid females were less visible to observers, but the visibility of non-gravid females and males did not change. Mean distance moved per day decreased and mean time between moves greater than 10 m increased in gravid females, non-gravid females and males with increasing exposure to human disturbance. However, mark-recapture data revealed no differences in the condition or growth rates of snakes, or in the litter size of gravid females, between individuals captured in disturbed and undisturbed study areas. While it is possible that the behavioral responses we observed are not sufficient to have life history consequences, more detailed information on the exposure of individual snakes to human activity is necessary before the conclusion that disturbance is not detrimental to snakes can be accepted. Similarly, other potential negative effects of human disturbance not investigated here remain to be explored.