Radiotelemetric study of habitat use by the arboreal snake Hoplocephalus stephensii (Elapidae) in eastern Australia

M. Fitzgerald, R. Shine*, F. Lemckert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

21 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Simply classifying a species as "arboreal" may tell us little about the ways that it uses above-ground habitats. For example, some species of arboreal snakes select exposed positions on branches, others lie among foliage, and yet others exploit crevices within the trunk. These different structural niches may involve fundamentally different patterns not only of habitat selection criteria but also of morphological, behavioral, and ecological traits. We implanted miniature radio-transmitters in 16 adult Stephens' banded snakes (Hoplocephalus stephensii) in a forest managed for timber production in northeastern New South Wales, and relocated these snakes regularly over a two-year period to clarify their patterns of habitat use. Unlike the vast majority of Australian elapid species, H. stephensii are primarily arboreal. Radiotracked snakes were in trees on > 80% of observations, generally hidden within hollows. The snakes remained inactive in trees for three to five months duringwinter each year. Snakes in wet sclerophyll forest sometimes foraged in tall sedges, whereas snakes in rain forest spent little time on the ground. Attributes of 139 trees used by the snakes were compared with those of 1437 trees in randomly selected plots. Snakes selected old, large trees with many hollows or extensive vine cover. Except for being above ground, the retreat sites used by these arboreal elapids were structurally similar to those used by their terrestrial relatives. The tree attributes important to H. stephensii thus differ profoundly from those important to many other species of arboreal snakes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-332
Number of pages12
JournalCopeia
Volume2002
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2002
Externally publishedYes

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