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Springer Verlag

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Climate change is predicted to alter the frequency and intensity of precipitation events, placing stress on freshwater aquatic ecosystems and their associated wildlife. Thus, understanding interspecific variation in drought sensitivity and the repeatability of those responses across heterogeneous landscapes is critical. Semi-aquatic snakes serve important roles within aquatic ecosystems and several species are threatened. Yet, little is known about the effects of drought on semi-aquatic snake populations or assemblages. We systematically trapped 20 isolated wetlands in South Carolina before (2006) and after (2013) a multi-year supra-seasonal drought to determine drought-induced shifts in occupancy and detection for five semi-aquatic snake species. Our results confirm that supra-seasonal drought differentially affects semi-aquatic snake species across landscape scales. Specifically, site occupancy decreased dramatically following drought for banded watersnakes (Nerodia fasciata) (0.95 to 0.69) and Florida green watersnakes (Nerodia floridana) (0.32 to 0.05), but was relatively unchanged for black swamp snakes (Seminatrix pygaea), mudsnakes (Farancia abacura) and glossy crayfish snakes (Regina rigida). Species lacking adaptations that make them resistant or resilient to drought may become locally extirpated if climate change projections are realized or landscapes are degraded or fragmented in ways that prevent drought recovery.

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