Effects of off-road vehicles on reproductive success of pine snakes (Pituophus melanoleucus) in the New Jersey pinelands

Joanna Burger, Robert T. Zappalorti, Michael Gochfeld, Emile Devito

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations

Abstract

Considerable attention has been devoted to the effects of people and their vehicles on birds and mammals, but possible effects on reptiles in populated areas have received less attention. Moreover, the effects of human activities on reptile reproductive success itself has been harder to demonstrate. This paper examines the effect of management of off-road vehicles in New Jersey's pinelands on the reproductive success of pine snakes (Pituophus melanoleucus) from 1986 to 2005. We used the percentage of snakes in each hibernaculum that were young of the year (hatchlings) as an indicator of reproductive success, and compared this percent for five hibernacula that were in an area with varying degrees of off-road vehicle (ORV) disturbance, with 12 hibernacula in areas with no ORV disturbances (reference sites). This percent took into account differences in absolute numbers from one location to another, and over time due to hibernacula destruction (by people or predators) and natural variations (food supply). The ORV pressure in the pinelands is intense because it lies within the most densely populated urban area in the United States. Although the number of snakes in the reference hibernacula varied over the years from 46 to 63, the percent of young in these hibernacula did not vary significantly over the 20 year period (21-29%). In contrast, the percent-young in the disturbed sites differed significantly in years without ORV disturbance (28%) compared to those with ORV disturbance (15 and 16%, P∈<∈0.01). Further, there were no differences between the percent of young in the reference sites and those in the disturbed site in years without ORV disturbance. ORV disturbance ceased only with the creation of large dirt berms coupled with fences that could not be easily broken. These data indicate the importance of having detailed population data on pine snakes in hibernacula, on ORV use (or indications of such use), and of managing ORV use to protect sensitive populations. Maintenance of healthy pine snake populations in urban areas may require continued adaptive management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)275-284
Number of pages10
JournalUrban Ecosystems
Volume10
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology
  • Urban Studies

Keywords

  • Hibernating
  • Human disturbance
  • Off-road vehicles
  • Reptiles
  • Snakes
  • State parks
  • Urban wildlife

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