Microhabitat Evaluation for Northern Mexican Gartersnakes at Bubbling Ponds Hatchery

Sprague, Tiffany A.

Bateman, Heather L.

College of Integrative Sciences and Arts

Arizona State University

Tempe, AZ 85287 USA

The Northern Mexican Gartersnake (Thamnophis eques megalops) was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2014. Bubbling Ponds Hatchery in Cornville, Arizona, supports a robust population of this species; natural resource managers are interested in understanding spatial ecology of gartersnakes at this site to guide hatchery operations and to serve as a model for habitat creation and restoration. Our objective was to determine microhabitat characteristics selected by Northern Mexican Gartersnakes at the hatchery. We deployed transmitters on 42 individual snakes, tracked movements weekly, and measured vegetative, cover, and abiotic variables in 1-m-diameter plots and along four associated 2.5-m transects. From May to August (2016), we measured habitat at 510 unique snake locations and 510 paired random locations, allowing us to assess used versus available habitat. Habitat selection by snakes varied between seasons. During the active season (March-October), snakes selected sloped areas close to water with abundant vegetation and cover. From April to May, gestating females selected similar locations, but cover was less dense. Snakes selected upland habitats during the inactive season (November-February), including rocky slopes with abundant vegetation. Conservation of this species should incorporate a landscape-level approach that includes abundant wetland edge habitat with connected upland areas.