Learning from habitat haves to help save a threatened rattlesnake: Study identifies landscape features that facilitate movements to breed

Comparing the genetics and relocation patterns of habitat “haves” and “have-nots” among two populations of threatened rattlesnakes has produced a new way to use scientific landscape data to guide conservation planning that would give the “have-nots” a better chance of surviving.

The study suggests that a collection of six relatively closely situated but isolated populations of Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes in northeast Ohio could grow their numbers if strategic alterations were made to stretches of land between their home ranges. The findings contributed to the successful application for federal funding of property purchases to make some of these proposed landscape changes happen.

Reconnecting these populations could not only help restore Eastern massasaugas to unthreatened status, but establish a thriving habitat for other prey and predator species facing threats to their survival — satisfying two big-picture conservation concerns, researchers say.

“We aren’t just protecting massasaugas — we’re protecting everything else that’s there,” said H. Lisle Gibbs, professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at The Ohio State University and senior author of the study. “Even though we are focused on this species, protection of the habitat has all these collateral benefits.”

The research was published recently in the journal Ecological Applications.

Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes live in isolated spaces in midwestern and eastern North America and were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2016 because of loss and fragmentation of their wetland habitat.

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