Genetic analysis shows that the Eastern Massasauga hibernacula at Carlyle Lake are genetically distinct units.
Once found across the northern two-thirds of Illinois, populations of the Eastern Massasauga have declined, with only one known population remaining in Illinois. Our long term studies have found the top four sources of mortality to include automobiles, predation, management related mortality (prescribed burns, mowing, etc), and disease. Our current study indicates that efforts to address these ecological threats may not be enough to save this imperiled species.
The area under what is now known as Carlyle Lake was a floodplain valley known as Boulder Bottoms. The creation of Carlyle Lake in the 1960s flooded this area, separating habitats on the the east and west sides of the Kaskaskia River, pushing wildlife, including the Eastern Massasauga, to the edges between the lake and agricultural fields. These bands of habitat are separated by the lake, paved roads, agriculture, and urbanization, potentially limiting migration and gene flow between patches.
Our current study looked at 327 genetic samples collected between 1999 and 2015 from individuals at 9 hibernacula across 3 study areas at Carlyle Lake. Study sites separated by up to 5 km had limited gene flow, as did hibernacula separated by a few hundred meters. This restriction of gene flow increases the vulnerability of these already imperiled populations.
Our study indicates that conservation and recovery efforts need to consider genetic rescue efforts in addition to reduction of ecological threats. Such efforts may include translocations and captive rearing to reduce the impacts of inbreeding depression and genetic drift. Even short distance translocations between the different study areas at Carlyle Lake could help restore gene flow impeded by contemporary human created fragmentation.
Anthonysamy, Whitney J.B., Michael J. Dreslik, Sarah J. Baker, Mark A. Davis, Marlis R. Douglas, Michael E. Douglas, and Christopher A. Phillips. 2022. Limited gene flow and pronounced population genetic structure of Eastern Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) in a Midwestern prairie remnant. PLOS ONE: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0265666
Members of the PaCE Lab exhibited in Conservation World at the 2019 Illinois State Fair, providing information and education to over 500 visitors. In addition to displays about the research being done by the group, visitors were able to try their hand at using actual field equipment used by scientists in their daily work.
The Illinois Bat Conservation Program had a mist net deployed where visitors could untangle, identify, and measure bats, all while wearing leather gloves.
The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation group had snake tongs, hooks, calipers, and radio telemetry equipment available for visitors to try to wrangle snakes into a snake bag, measure turtles, or track a hidden turtle.
Other activities included Build-a-Bug, where people can assemble the arthropod of their dreams (or nightmares) from a variety of general and specialized appendages, Wheel of Migration, about the risks migratory birds face, and locating PIT-tagged animals.
INHS scientists are collaborating to understand Snake Fungal Disease and its impacts on endangered snakes in Illinois.
“We’re trying to protect an endangered species,” said INHS herpetologist and postdoctoral researcher Sarah Baker, a collaborator with Allender on several studies. “A lot of pit viper populations are declining – not only in Illinois, but nationwide. Snake fungal disease is just one more threat that they have to contend with, and anything we can do – to find effective treatments, for example, or disinfectants that stop people from spreading the disease from place to place – could make a difference for their long-term survival.”