Stress physiology and anti-predator behaviour in urban Northwestern Gartersnakes (Thamnophis ordinoides)




Bell, Katherine

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Over 50% of the world’s human population resides in urban centres, and this is expected to increase as the global human population grows and people migrate from non-urban to urban centres. Concentrated in these urban areas are anthropogenic disturbances that impose additional challenges on wildlife compared to their non-urban counterparts. These challenges can be stress provoking. Through the release of corticosterone (CORT) reptiles can adapt to these stressors, physiologically and behaviourally, both in the short- and long-term. To investigate the relationships between stress activation and defensive tactics in wild urban Northwestern Gartersnakes (Thamnophis ordinoides) I conducted visual encounter surveys, along edge-focused transects, following a semi-constrained random sampling method. I sampled snakes at five sites, each with a different level of anthropogenic disturbance, in the Greater Victoria Area, BC. I sampled blood, observed anti-predator behaviour, and collected data on characteristics of snakes. The most disturbed site (with the most people, pets, and natural predators) also had the most snakes: those snakes also had highest H:L values (a proxy of CORT) in their blood compared to the other populations. Nevertheless, none of the snakes had H:L values that indicated chronic stress. Stress physiology was not correlated with anti-predator behaviour. More important to anti-predator behaviour was the size, sex/reproductive condition, and cloacal temperature of snakes. Although anthropogenic development can reduce habitat quality for some reptiles, Northwestern Gartersnakes coexist with recreationists at many sites in the District of Saanich. A multi-disciplinary approach is of paramount importance to understand the full effect of anthropogenic influences on wildlife.



Urban ecology, Chronic stress, Leukocyte profile, Gartersnake, Anthropogenic disturbance, Defensive behaviour