Managing an Ecological Trap for Reptiles

Reptiles require environmental cues such as temperature and moisture gradients to locate suitable habitats to complete their annual life cycle.

Anthropogenically altered habitats, including partially mined peatlands, agricultural fields, and road surfaces, mimic these cues and attract such temperature-dependent animals (i.e. ectotherms). However, these altered habitats can act as an ecological trap where such habitats can leave individuals exposed to predators and unfavorable abiotic conditions like extreme thermal fluctuations, ultimately causing an increase in mortality risk.

Ecological trap theory suggests that the continued presence of a trap will drive populations to extinction. Using my study site, a partially-mined peatland, as a basis for this theory, I have collected evidence supporting this theory since 1998.

Such evidence includes results from radio telemetry and mark-recapture studies, thermal selection studies, assessments of wintering habitat conditions, and continuous mortality observations after wildfires and all types of winters.

The implications of ecological trap theory are particularly important at my study site, which has a resident reptile community that includes 5 species at risk.

The next phase of this project is to determine refugia needs for turtles and implement forced hibernation for various snake species until the ecological traps are mitigated and the species-at-risk populations are recovering.

Read my posts about forced hibernation:

Measuring Subterranean Hibernation Habitat

Forced Hibernation of Neonatal Snakes to Ensure Overwinter Survival

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Anne Yagi
Field Ecologist currently studying hibernation ecology of reptiles. Connect with me on ResearchGate and LinkedIn