Smooth snake population decline and its link with prey availability

Reading, Christopher; Jofré, Gabriela. 2020 Smooth snake population decline and its link with prey availability. Amphibia-Reptilia, 41 (1). 43-48.

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The relationship between the numbers of smooth snakes, Coronella austriaca, and common lizards, Zootoca vivipara, was investigated in a 6.5 ha area of lowland heath within Wareham Forest in southern England. With the exception of 2002 the numbers of lizards, small mammals and individual smooth snakes captured, or observed, were recorded during each of 21 annual surveys between May and October 1997-2018. Smooth snake diet was investigated annually between 2004 and 2015 by analysing faecal samples and showed that lizards, particularly the common lizard, and pigmy shrews, Sorex minutus, were important prey species. There was no significant correlation between the occurrence of any small mammal species and either snake numbers or their presence in smooth snake diet. Over the study period there was an overall decline in the number of smooth snakes captured whilst there was an overall increase in the number of common lizard sightings. The frequency of common lizards found in the diet of smooth snakes was positively correlated with their abundance within the study area. There was a significant correlation between the decline of smooth snake numbers and the subsequent increase in the number of common lizard sightings suggesting that lizard abundance may be controlled by snake numbers. Conversely, we found no evidence indicating that smooth snake numbers were dependent on lizard numbers suggesting that factors other than prey availability e.g. habitat change due to cattle grazing, blocking ground water drainage ditches, or climatic variables, were impacting on snake numbers, particularly between 2012 and 2018.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: UKCEH Fellows
ISSN: 0173-5373
Additional Keywords: cattle grazing, Coronella austriaca, habitat change, lowland heath, Zootoca vivipara
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 19 Dec 2019 11:43 +0 (UTC)

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