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Tuesday, January 26 • 3:20pm - 3:40pm
Role of Historical Land Use in the Distribution of Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake Habitat in Northeastern Ohio

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AUTHORS: Eric McCluskey*, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, Ohio State University; Thomas Hetherington, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, Ohio State University

ABSTRACT: Historical processes play an important role in the patterns of biodiversity we observe today. Of particular interest to conservation biologists and ecologists are the roles of prior land use and land cover change in influencing the present day distribution of rare species and ecosystems. I used object-based classification techniques to analyze historical aerial photographs (covering ~75 years) in order to quantify anthropogenic land use and successional transitions in land cover to gain a better understanding of how these processes have influenced the present day distribution of a threatened species, the eastern massasauga rattlesnake Sistrurus catenatus catenatus in northeastern Ohio. I compared these patterns of land use with a habitat suitability map generated from a species distribution model based on current environmental conditions. I found that prior agricultural areas were associated with higher habitat suitability scores than forest or grassland areas. I also observed current massasauga populations residing in habitat patches that had previously been agricultural fields. These findings, coupled with observed increases in tree cover, which is detrimental to massasaugas, provide evidence for the role of agricultural land use as an important contributing factor to the distribution of massasaugas and their habitat in northeastern Ohio. In the absence of natural disturbance agents, agricultural fields that were allowed to go fallow represent an important source of early successional habitat vital to massasaugas in this part of their range.

Tuesday January 26, 2016 3:20pm - 3:40pm EST