Microhabitat and movement assessment for northern Mexican gartersnakes (Thamnophis eques megalops) at Bubbling Ponds Hatchery, Arizona

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Species conservation requires an understanding of the habitats on which that species depends as well as how it moves within and among those habitats. Knowledge of these spatial and temporal

Species conservation requires an understanding of the habitats on which that species depends as well as how it moves within and among those habitats. Knowledge of these spatial and temporal patterns is vital for effective management and research study design. Bubbling Ponds Hatchery in Cornville, Arizona, supports a robust population of the northern Mexican gartersnake (Thamnophis eques megalops), which was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2014. Natural resource managers are interested in understanding the ecology of gartersnakes at this site to guide hatchery operations and to serve as a model for habitat creation and restoration. My objectives were to identify habitat selection and activity patterns of northern Mexican gartersnakes at the hatchery and how frequency of monitoring affects study results. I deployed transmitters on 42 individual gartersnakes and documented macro- and microhabitat selection, daily and seasonal activity patterns, and movement distances. Habitat selection and movements were similar between males and females and varied seasonally. During the active season (March–October), snakes primarily selected wetland edge habitat with abundant cover and were more active and moved longer distances than during other parts of the year. Gestating females selected similar locations but with less dense cover. During the inactive season (November–February), snakes were less mobile and selected upland habitats, including rocky slopes with abundant vegetation. Snakes displayed diurnal patterns of activity. Estimates of daily distance traveled decreased with less-frequent monitoring; a sampling interval of once every 24 hours yielded only 53–62% of known daily distances moved during the active season. These results can help inform management activities and research design. Conservation of this species should incorporate a landscape-level approach that includes abundant wetland edge habitat with connected upland areas. Resource managers and researchers should carefully assess timing and frequency of activities in order to meet project objectives.