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Fragmented forests result in more snakes, fewer birds
Date:5/4/2010

the forest into bits and pieces. He concedes that in southern Illinois the land doesn't lend itself to this kind of clearance. "Most of the good agricultural land occurs in the valley bottoms, whereas on the slopes it's too rocky and too steep to make it practical to use for agriculture."

The study, conducted in southern Illinois, used data from radio transmitters implanted in rat snakes combined with information from over 300 bird nests that were located and their fate tracked. Independently, a number of nests that weren't actually a part of the study were monitored with video cameras to document the nest predators.

Rat snakes are common in eastern North America from Texas in the west to the Florida Keys in the east and all the way up to southern Ontario. "Everywhere there have been camera studies, as long as it's in wooded or semi-wooded habitat, rat snakes emerge as the single most important predator. They're common throughout the range, and they're really good at finding bird nests," Weatherhead said.

The miniature video cameras make identification of nest predators possible because they can record activity at the nests around the clock.

How do snakes on the ground see nests up in trees?

Weatherhead says the evidence is circumstantial. "Snake predation is much higher on nests where the young are being fed than when the eggs are being incubated. There's a lot more parental activity when the young are being fed than when the eggs are being incubated. The limited evidence available all seems to point to the snakes observing the parents flying back and forth to the same place, an indicator to the snake that there's a nest there. There are anecdotes of people watching a nest and noticing a rat snake watching that same nest, and from the snake's head movements it was obviously tracking the movement of the adult pairs back and forth." In one case, the snake was then observed going to the nest and eating the young.

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Contact: Debra Levey Larson
dlarson@illinois.edu
217-244-2880
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
Source:Eurekalert  

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