URBANA Speculation about how animals will respond to climate change due to global warming led University of Illinois researcher Patrick Weatherhead and his students to conduct a study of ratsnakes at three different latitudesOntario, Illinois, and Texas. His findings suggest that ratsnakes will be able to adapt to the higher temperatures by becoming more active at night.
"Ratsnakes are a species with a broad geographic range so we could use latitude as a surrogate for climate change," Weatherhead said. "What are ratsnakes in Illinois going to be dealing with given the projections for how much warmer it will be 50 years from now? Well, go to Texas and find out. That's what they're dealing with now. Snakes are ectotherms, that is, they use the environment to regulate their body temperature. We were able to compare ratsnakes' ability to regulate their temperature in Texas as compared to Illinois and Canada."
The research showed that ratsnakes in Canada, Illinois, and Texas would all benefit from global warming.
"It would actually make the environment thermally better for them," Weatherhead said. "Texas is already too hot for much of the day so it may cause them to shift to even more nocturnal foraging there and stay active at night for more of the season."
As the higher temperatures associated with global warming begin to be more challenging for snakes in Illinois, will they be able to switch to nocturnal foraging? "We think that won't be a problem for them," Weatherhead said. "We already know that Illinois snakes show some limited amount of nocturnal activity because there is anecdotal evidence for nocturnal nest predation by snakes."
Weatherhead said that as temperatures increase there are a lot of potential scenarios of what might happen in the ecosystem.
"If we start with the premise that with a thermal increase snakes will do better, the snake population may increase, but snakes are also facing dimi
|Contact: Debra Levey Larson|
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences