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Ecologist finds dire devastation of snake species following floods of '93, '95
Date:9/12/2007

900-acre reconstructed marsh comprised of pools surrounded by levees. It serves primarily as habitat for migratory and residential birds and for recreations such as hunting, fishing, hiking and bird watching. The preserve lies slightly upstream of the convergence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. It is managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation, which, in 1990, sought out Sexton, a noted herpetologist, and asked him to try to find evidence for the presence of the fox snake at Marais Temps Clair, a northern species not known then to exist as far south as Marais Temps Clair.

Sexton found a fox snake sunning itself in the field on the very first day of this endeavor, but that was just the start of the serendipity. Because he and his colleagues statistician Judith Bramble, Ph.D., of the Environmental Science Program at DePaul University in Chicago, Wayne Drda, field research manager of the Rattlesnake Project at Washington Universitys Tyson Research Center, and Kenneth G. Sexton, a herpetologist and field assistant at the Tyson Research Station, already had placed numerous hide boards about Marais Temps Clair, they decided to broaden their reach and census the whole place. Hide boards are plywood sheets about 3 by3 under which snakes take refuge from predators and inclement weather. You lift the board and you frequently find a snake. The other method they used to identify snakes was simply handpicking them in the field to identify which species they are.

It had been known that 23 snake species occur or have occurred in St. Charles County, and Sexton and colleagues figured that their data would reflect that. One week before floodwaters spilled into MaraisTemps Clair, they stopped gathering data.

The flood was another turn of serendipity.

An ecologist can go several lifetimes and not experience a flood on the scale of those of 1993 and 1995, Sexton said. I saw the flood as unfortunate, on the one hand, but it p
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Contact: Tony Fitzpatrick
tony_fitzpatrick@wustl.edu
314-935-5272
Washington University in St. Louis
Source:Eurekalert

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