The importance of paleodunes as nesting habitat for Northern Pine Snakes (Pituophis melanoleucus melanoleucus): risk from off-road vehicles in the New Jersey Pine Barrens

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Human development and disturbances can be determinants of population viability of some vertebrates in human-impacted ecosystems. The effects on the behavior and population dynamics of reptiles are not well-studied in urban environments. This paper examines the importance of pine forest clearings, openings, and paleodunes for nesting pine snakes (Pituophis melanoleucus melanoleucus) in the New Jersey Pinelands, and the risk to nesting females and offspring from off-road vehicles (ORV). In this ms we 1) develop a rating scale for ORV activity that can be modified for evaluating risk to other vertebrates, 2) compare general habitat features of nesting areas used in the early 1980s with those used in 2020, and 3) examine the fate of nesting areas used in the 1980s and the intensity of ORV use in both time periods. In 2020, nests were located at only 2 of the 10 nesting areas used in 1983 (20%), and only one of the 10 was a paleodune. In comparison, in 2020, 9 of 13 new nesting areas were on paleodunes (69%). In 1983, ORV activity on nesting areas ranged from very low to medium. In the intervening years development and ORV activity increased markedly, and snakes abandoned most areas by 2020. ORV activity in those sites still utilized for nesting increased to high and very high. In 2020, ORV activity ranged from very low (7%) to very high (19%) of the 42 nests. With increasing urban development, nesting pine snakes are using mainly paleodunes deep in the forest, and are exposed to high or very high ORV activity (43%), suggesting concern for viable snake populations in the wake of continued human activity and ORV use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)411-422
Number of pages12
JournalUrban Ecosystems
Volume25
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology
  • Urban Studies

Keywords

  • Human disturbance
  • Nesting habitat
  • Off-road-vehicles
  • Paleodunes
  • Parental risk
  • Snakes

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