Nesting ecology of the grass snake (Natrix natrix) and its implications for conservation
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
The onset of agriculture about 12,000 years ago has had a major influence on the biodiversity of plants and animals. Unfortunately, the rapid changes in agricultural practices that has occurred in recent times has negatively affected many farmland species. One such species is the grass snake (Natrix natrix), which has been reported to decline in many parts of Europe, including Sweden. The grass snake is unique, not only in that it is the most northerly distributed oviparous reptile in the world, but also because of its habit of using anthropogenic heat sources such as manure heaps and composts as nesting-sites. Unfortunately changes in manure management and abandonment of farmlands have resulted in a decline and fragmentation of these environments. This may pose a threat for the northernmost populations of the grass snake, because natural nests in these areas may not provide sufficient heat for the eggs to hatch. The eggs and embryos of reptiles are highly sensitive to incubation temperatures, which can influence not only hatching success but also many phenotypic traits in the hatchlings. In this thesis I used a series of laboratory and field experiments to investigate the importance of anthropogenic heat sources for the reproductive ecology of cold-climate populations of grass snakes. More specifically, I aimed to investigate thermal regimes of nests and how they influence embryonic development and offspring traits associated with survival and fitness. The results showed that manure heaps and composts are significantly warmer than potential natural nests and that natural nests do not provide sufficient heat to sustain embryonic development. Further, manure heaps were warmer and more constant in temperature than composts, resulting in higher hatching success and earlier hatching in manure heaps. The higher thermal variability in composts increased the frequency of abnormalities that are likely to negatively affect survival and fitness. In conclusion, this thesis shows that the use of anthropogenic heat sources has enabled grass snakes to expand their range farther north than any other oviparous reptile and that the thermal dichotomy in the primary nesting environments used by grass snakes contribute to important life-history variation in this species. These findings have important implications for conservation of reptile populations in general and grass snakes in particular.
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Zoology, Stockholm University , 2016.
agriculture, anthropogenic, climate, embryonic development, incubation
Research subject Animal Ecology
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-125524ISBN: 978-91-7649-307-6OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-125524DiVA: diva2:894177
2016-02-19, Vivi Täckholmsalen, Svante Arrhenius väg 20 A, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Uller, Tobias, Doktor
Hagman, Mattias, DoktorNylin, Sören, Professor
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