Spatiotemporal patterns of snake captures and activity in upland pine forests
Patterns of species’ occurrences across space and time are fundamental components to understanding their ecology, as this variation often reflects responses to local environmental gradients. We built species-specific models to understand the spatial and temporal factors predicting captures and activity of five snake species in upland pine forests: copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix), racer (Coluber constrictor), coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum), western ratsnake (Pantherophis obsoletus), and western ribbonsnake (Thamnophis proximus). From mid-May to mid-July across 3 y (2018, 2019, 2020), we monitored boxtraps in two upland pine forests experiencing different management regimes: (1) subjected to frequent thinning and prescribed burning, and (2) subjected to infrequent thinning and prescribed burning. Significantly more copperheads and western ribbonsnakes were captured at the infrequently thinned and burned forest, whereas significantly more racers were captured at forest subjected to frequent thinning and burning. As the summer progressed, captures decreased each subsequent month for both racers and western ratsnakes, with the fewest captures in July. Western ratsnakes were the only species to exhibit a response to the weather in that activity decreased with increasing rainfall. No variables were significant predictors of coachwhip captures. The variation in captures across space may be attributed to the physiological tolerances of each species based on their habitat preferences or differences in prey availability at each forest. Interactions between the physiological tolerances, foraging behaviors, or their reproductive phenology may be underlying the temporal variation in activity patterns.