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Title: Garter snakes distributions in high elevation aquatic ecosystems: Is there a link with declining amphibian populations and nonnative trout introductions?

Author: Matthews, K.R.; Knapp, R.A.; Pope, K.L.;

Date: 2002

Source: Journal of Herpetology. 36:16-22.

Publication Series: Miscellaneous Publication

Description: ABSTRACT.—The dramatic amphibian population declines reported worldwide likely have important effects on their predators. In the Sierra Nevada, where amphibian declines are well documented and some are closely tied to the introduction of nonnative trout, the mountain garter snake, Thamnophis elegans elegans, preys predominately on amphibians. We surveyed 2103 high-elevation lakes in the Sierra Nevada, quantified the distributional relationship between the mountain garter snake and anuran amphibians (Pseudacris regilla, Rana muscosa, and Bufo spp.) and used this information to evaluate the possibility that amphibian declines lead to declines of garter snakes. We observed a strong association between amphibian presence and garter snake presence. The probability of finding snakes in lakes with amphibians was 30 times greater than in lakes without amphibians. Lakes with snakes had higher numbers of amphibians within 1 km (mean 5 4018.8) than did lakes without snakes (mean 5 642.1). On a landscape scale, in Kings Canyon National Park (where 40% of larger lakes contain nonnative trout) amphibians were found in 52% of lakes, and 62 garter snakes were found in 33 of the 1059 lakes surveyed. In contrast, in the John Muir Wilderness (JMW; where 80% of larger lakes contain nonnative trout), amphibians were found in 19% of lakes, and no snakes were found in any of the 1044 lakes surveyed. Based on these data, we suggest that the introduction of nonnative trout has led not only to the decline of amphibians but also to the decline of garter snakes. This study supports the hypothesis that the presence of amphibians is a prerequisite for garter snake persistence in high-elevation portions of the Sierra Nevada and that the introduction of trout into an ecosystem can have serious effects, not just on their prey but also on other predators in the ecosystem.

Keywords: garter snakes, high elevation, aquatic ecosystems

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Matthews, K.R., R.A. Knapp, and K.L. Pope. 2002. Garter snakes distributions in high elevation aquatic ecosystems: Is there a link with declining amphibian populations and nonnative trout introductions?. Journal of Herpetology. 36:16-22.


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