New Timber Rattlesnake publication by PhD candidate Andrew Jesper

Trailcam image of Timber Rattlesnake at den opening

Abstract: Many temperate reptiles survive winter by using subterranean refugia until external conditions become suitable for activity. Determining when to emerge from refugia relies on the ability to interpret when above-ground environmental conditions are survivable. If temperate reptiles rely on specific environmental cues such as temperature to initiate emergence, we should expect emergence phenologies to be predictable using local climatic data. However, specific predictors of emergence for many temperate reptiles, including the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus), remain unclear, limiting our understanding of their overwintering phenology and restricting effective conservation and management. Our objectives were to identify environmental cues of spring emergence for C. horridus in Illinois to determine the species’ emergence phenology, and to examine the applicability of identified cues in predicting emergence phenology across the species’ range. We used wildlife cameras and weather station-derived environmental data to observe and predict the daily surface presence of C. horridus throughout the late winter and early spring at communal refugia in west-central and northern Illinois. The most parsimonious model for predicting surface presence included the additive effects of maximum daily temperature, accumulated degree days, and latitude. With a notable exception in the southeastern U.S., the model accurately predicted the average emergence day for eight other populations range wide, emphasizing the importance of temperature in influencing the phenological plasticity observed across the species’ range. The apparent broad applicability of the model to other populations suggests it can be a valuable tool in predicting spring emergence phenology. Our results provide a foundation for further ecological enquiries and improved management and conservation strategies.

 

Read the paper at:

Jesper AC, Eckert SA, Bielema BJ, Ballard SR, Dreslik MJ. 2023. Phenology and predictors of spring emergence for the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) PeerJ 11:e16044 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.16044

Popular article: Discovering the Ornate Box Turtle: A Rare, Remarkable Illinois Reptile

Graduate student Devin Edmonds wrote an article for the August Issue of Outdoor Illinois, showcasing the subject of his M.Sc. thesis research, the Ornate Box Turtle.

Less common than their Eastern Box Turtle relatives, the Ornate Box Turtle is listed as state threatened. Learn more about this “Rare, Remarkable Illinois Reptile.”

Outdoor Illinois – Discovering the Ornate Box Turtle: A Rare, Remarkable Illinois Reptile

INHS PaCE Lab at Turtle Survival Alliance Symposium

Dr. Dreslik and several lab members are presenting posters and talks in Charleston, South Carolina this week for the Turtle Survival Alliance’s 21st Annual Symposium on the Conservation and Biology of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles

 

Population structure of the Western Pond Turtle (Actinemys spp.) across twelve military installations in California
Emily Asche, Matthew I. Parry, Thomas S. B. Akre, Robert Lovich, and Michael J. Dreslik
Western Pond Turtle (Actinemys spp.) populations are currently threatened with habitat loss, predation, and shell disease. The synergies among threats have caused severe population declines whereby they are an endangered species in Washington, a sensitive species in Oregon, and a species of special concern in California. It is imperative to investigate their status in California to determine how prevalent threats are and what level of conservation action needs to be taken to avoid declines. We examined the population structure of the Western Pond Turtle populations at twelve military installations across California through sampling in one-week bouts using 50 aquatic traps at one visit per base. We recorded the body size, life stage, and sex of all individuals. Our study is intended to represent a first pass at determining if there are any immediate conservation concerns, such as biases in stage or sex ratios and population size structure.

Detection and occupancy of the Western Pond Turtle (Actinemys spp.)
Matthew I. Parry, Emily Asche, Robert Lovich, Thomas S. B. Akre and Michael J. Dreslik
Low densities, followed by a secretive nature, create challenges for accurately estimating population estimates and site occupancy rates. The Western Pond Turtle (Actinemys spp.) faces range-wide declines and is currently a species of special concern in California. Our project aims to determine their status across 12 military installations using an occupancy/detection framework while attempting to maximize captures during one 50 aquatic trap/four trap night sampling session per installation. Because we sampled areas of known occupancy, we could focus on estimating detection rates. We aim to create an MS Excel tool to determine the detection probabilities while accounting for various environmental and habitat-related covariates.

Survival matters: Comparing the demographic traits of Clemmys and Glyptemys with long-term capture-recapture data
Devin Edmonds, Michael J. Dreslik, Jeffrey E. Lovich, and Carl H. Ernst

Freshwater turtles are one of the most threatened vertebrate groups, with over half of all species at risk of extinction. Overexploitation and habitat loss are the largest threats, with many turtle populations now small, isolated, and needing conservation action to ensure they persist. To enact informed conservation measures and monitor recovery efforts, managers benefit from information about demographic rates like survival and recruitment for highly threatened turtle species. Survival plays a particularly important role in population persistence, considering the life history of most turtle species is characterized by a long lifespan, delayed sexual maturity, and low fecundity. Thus, even small changes in adult annual survival rates can cause otherwise stable populations to decline. We analyzed three historical long-term capture-recapture datasets to estimate annual survival and recruitment for populations of Spotted Turtles (Clemmys guttata), Wood Turtles (Glyptemys insculpta), and Bog Turtles (Glyptemys muhlengerbii) that live in increasingly threatened wetlands and surrounding habitats. All three have ranges characterized by disjunct distributions and often small and isolated populations. Adult sex ratios in turtles can be affected by differences between the sexes in the timing of maturity, rates of mortality, sex-determining mechanism, or differential immigration/emigration. The two Glyptemys species have genetic sex determination while Clemmys has environmental sex determination. This latter distinction could affect each species responses under warming climate scenarios, since Clemmys might be expected to have female-biased populations as global temperatures increase. However, sex-specific differences in survival of Glyptemys species could also occur. Using multi-decadal data, we analyze sex-specific and species-specific survivorship from a site in eastern Pennsylvania where these turtles were sympatric. Our results help inform conservation efforts for three threatened freshwater turtle species and show the strengths of historic long-term data.

Baseline energetic requirements of Ornate Box Turtles (Terrapene ornata)
Andrea L. Colton and Michael J. Dreslik

Increasing ambient temperatures due to climate change may lead to altered behaviors as turtles attempt to regulate internal body temperatures. Increased efforts to maintain temperatures may result in energetic tradeoffs, leading to reduced individual fitness and, thus, population abundance. Estimation of resting metabolic rates for turtles affords calculation of baseline energetic requirements and the potential to predict costs associated with warming landscapes. Using flow-through respirometry, we will determine the resting metabolic rates (RMRs) of adult Ornate Box Turtles (Terrapene ornata) across a temperature gradient to provide information on energetic costs. The baseline estimates will then be used to determine the annual RMR costs on the landscape.

Ranges on the spectrum of recovery: conservation action for the Spotted Turtle and Eastern River Cooter in Illinois
Michael J. Dreslik

Extinction rates in the Anthropocene are significantly higher than background and previous major events. The extinction process can occur when local populations become extirpated, particularly those on the range periphery where habitats are often sub-optimal. Turtles are one of the most critically endangered taxa, with many anthropogenic factors triggering declines. Although jurisdictional boundaries can often complicate conservation, many North American turtles have peripheral populations of conservation concern. Within Illinois, peripheral populations of the Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) and Eastern River Cooter (Pseudemys concinna) are protected as State Endangered; however, their apparent recovery is quite different. I discuss conservation prioritizations, status assessments, and conservation implementation needs for both species in Illinois. Finally, I compare the pathways to recovery for both species.
Conservation Tools and Actions: Oral Thursday PM

Restored meadows can support plenty of prey for Eastern Massasauga

Current PaCE Lab graduate student Zander Perelman had two papers published recently from his M.Sc. research on Eastern Massasaugas in Pennsylvania.

The first paper reported on the prey community at a restored meadow in western Pennsylvania.

Often, restoration projects are focused on removing unwanted vegetation and re-establishing the plant community with the notion that “if you build it, they will come.”

In 2012, habitat restoration began at a well studied Eastern Massasauga site that had deteriorated through forest encroachment and natural succession. Restoration and follow up active management removed the canopy cover and returned it to a grassy meadow.

In 2021, to assess whether restoration efforts had created suitable habitat to supports prey species suitable for EMRs, Perelman and his colleagues conducted surveys of terrestrial vertebrates at the site using drift fences, cover objects, funnel traps, Sherman live traps, and active searches. Over 4 months they caught 9 species of amphibian, 10 species of reptile, and 11 species of mammal, for a total of 656 vertebrates. Their samples included 12 species documented as Eastern Massasauga prey items, many in high numbers.

Based upon their sampling they determined that the vertebrate community in the restored meadow habitat may provide the resident EMR population with a prey base that can support reproduction and sustainable population growth.

The second paper analyzed and formally described combat rituals between two male Eastern Massasaugas in the presence of a radio-implanted female. While tracking a gravid female, a male was observed nearby. Two days later, a second male was observed near the pair and Perelman was able to record 17 minutes of male-male combat.

This video provided the first formal analysis of these behaviors of male Eastern Massasaugas in the wild. The snakes spent much of their time in a raised and engaged position (RE), but also were intertwined for over a minute, attempted to top each other, and tongue flicked. The snake who ultimately copulated with the female appeared to be more persistent and engaged in the combat and perhaps most importantly, was more successful in topping his opponent..

Read the full papers:

Perelman, Zander E. ,  William I. Lutterschmidt, and Howard K. Reinert. 2022. Community Structure of Terrestrial Vertebrates in a Restored Meadow Habitat in Pennsylvania: Assessing the Potential Prey Base for Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes. Northeastern Naturalist,Volume 29, Issue 3 (2022): 370–381

Perelman, Zander E. ,  William I. Lutterschmidt, and Howard K. Reinert. 2022. A behavioral analysis of male-male combat in the Eastern Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus). Herpetological Review: 53(3): 381-384

Contact Zander Perelman for more information

Follow our lab to keep with additional Eastern Massasauga research

Massasauga hibernacula at Carlyle Lake are genetically distinct units

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.

Read the paper at PLOS One

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

    Five year, $6 million contract awarded to UBAP team

    The Urban Biotic Assessment Program was awarded $6,226,400 to continue providing technical assistance to the Illinois Tollway Environmental team.

    This is the third intergovernmental agreement between the INHS and the Illinois Tollway and will allow the continuation of this mutually beneficial partnership that began in 2005.

    The partnership has grown from monitoring Blanding’s Turtles in the Des Plaines River Valley to a multi-disciplinary program. While the key function is to provide the ecological knowledge necessary to comply with state and federal regulations, both organizations share a goal of studying the natural resources of the region to protect them into the future.

    Research projects in this new agreement include biotic surveys of each of the Tollway corridors, continuation of longterm monitoring of the Kishwaukee River mussel population, using eDNA to detect cryptic species, Rusty Patched Bumble Bee surveys, and identifying bat roost trees.

    Download our report of activities from 2015-2020

    PACE Lab researchers awarded two Competitive State Wildlife Grants

    Two projects from the INHS PACE Lab were among the 21 projects funded nationally by the 2021 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Competitive State Wildlife Grant (C-SWG) program.

    The first cooperative project is with the Iowa and Illinois Department of Natural Resources, allocated at $499,797 for the joint project titled “Blanding’s Turtle Conservation in Iowa and Illinois, 2022 through 2024”.  The project team from the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) and National Great Rivers Research and Education Center (NGREEC) comprises Ethan J. Kessler, Michael J.  Dreslik, Andrew R. Kuhns, and John A. Crawford. The team was awarded $249,449 for their portion of the project, “Population Assessment and Space Use in a Kankakee Sands Region Blanding’s Turtle Population.” While much work has been done on Blanding’s Turtle populations in the Chicagoland region, this project focuses on lesser-known populations in the Kankakee Sands Conservation Opportunity Area.

    The grant will facilitate an intensive capture-mark-recapture study to determine population size and begin to collect demographic data. A subset of turtles will be tracked using radio telemetry and GPS trackers to monitor survival and determine space and habitat use. The data is necessary to determine the amount and extent of suitable habitat available on the landscape and address causes of mortality for this population. The work will build on previous research on Blanding’s Turtles in Illinois and further inform conservation planning.

    musselsThe second cooperative project is with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources allocated at $247,892 for the joint project titled, “Regional Assessment of Widespread Mussel Declines: a Multistep Approach to Examine Potential Causes.” The project team from the INHS comprises Sarah A. Douglass and Alison P. Stodola while INHS alum Bernard Sietman will lead Minnesota’s portion. The INHS team was awarded $113,364 for their portion of the project. Freshwater mussels, an ecologically important component of river ecosystems, are experiencing widespread declines. With the award, Douglass and Stodola will investigate potential causes for these declines with the goal of informing conservation guidelines and recovery planning. Additionally, this study is an expansion of a largescale, cooperative project spearheaded by Dr. Wendell Haag, US Forest Service Research Fisheries Biologist, and American Rivers to examine causes of freshwater mussel declines across North America.

    Researchers will assess pairs of rivers with similar historic mussel assemblages, comparing a river with relatively intact mussel assemblages and a river with a degraded assemblage. They will develop health metrics and assess habitat characteristics to identify potential causal factors of decline. Juvenile mussels will be propagated and used to assess health in response to potential causes of decline. Another part of the project will use eDNA and targeted sampling to update knowledge of Salamander Mussel populations in Illinois and Minnesota. The research will build on a pilot project previously undertaken by Douglass to use eDNA to detect the critically imperiled species and its host, the Mudpuppy salamander.

    In granting these awards, USFWS recognizes the necessity of these two projects to further the goals of the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan to conserve imperiled species and their habitats.

     

    2021 Midwest PARC conference

    The INHS Population and Community Ecology Lab had four posters at the 2021 Midwest Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Virtual Conference, October 1-2, 2021.

     

    Colton, Andrea L., E. L. Sunnucks, and M. J. Dreslik. Community Structure of Freshwater Turtles in Northeastern Illinois Marshes.

     

     

    Edmonds, Devin A., A. Colton, E. Sunnucks, I. Jaquet, and M. J. Dreslik. Timing of prescribed burns to avoid Ornate Box Turtles (Terrapene ornata).

     

    Lorenzen, Brock C., A. R. Kuhns, J. A. Crawford, C. A. Phillips, and M. J. Dreslik. Halting the Decline of a Jefferson Salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum) population: A Conservation Success Story.

     

    Predicted distribution of kirtland's snake in illinoisStewart, Tyler M., A. R. Kuhns, J. A. Crawford, C. A. Phillips, and M. J. Dreslik. Predicted Distribution of Kirtland’s Snake (Clonophis kirtlandii) in Illinois.

    Congratulations to M.S. student Tyler Stewart who won the Brodman Student Award for excellence in presenting a poster!

    New paper on habitat restoration impacts on box turtles

    Eastern Box Turtle growth is influenced by environmental conditions which in turn can be influenced by vegetative structure. Removal of Autumn Olive and Russian Olive at a site in Illinois occurred during a 16 year mark-recapture study allowing us to analyze impacts of removal on the growth of turtles. The data showed that removing the invasive plants may not negatively impact the growth of the turtles and that growth is variable by individual. This is attributed to reptile growth being influenced by more than just environmental conditions, including genetics.

    Read the paper: Edmonds, D., A.R. Kuhns, and M.J. Dreslik. 2020. Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) growth and the impacts of invasive vegetation removal. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 15(3):588–596.