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Community Structure of Terrestrial Vertebrates in a Restored Meadow Habitat in Pennsylvania: Assessing the Potential Prey Base for Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes

Zander E. Perelman1,2, William I. Lutterschmidt1,*, and Howard K. Reinert3

1Department of Biological Sciences, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX 77341. 2Current address - Illinois Natural History Survey, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Champaign, IL 61280. 3Department of Biology, The College of New Jersey, PO Box 7718, Ewing, NJ 08628. *Corresponding author.

Northeastern Naturalist, Volume 29, Issue 3 (2022): 370–381

Abstract
We sampled the vertebrate community of a 20-ha conservation easement in Venango County, PA, from April through August 2021. The restoration and management efforts on this easement were designed to improve the meadow habitat for one of the few remaining populations of Sistrurus catenatus (Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake) in Pennsylvania, and our sampling efforts were focused on evaluating the potential prey base available to the rattlesnakes at this site. We identified 9 amphibian species, 10 reptile species, and 11 small mammal species. For amphibians, Anaxyrus americanus (American Toad) was the most abundant species, accounting for 32.6% of the total, followed by Notophthalmus viridescens (Red-Spotted Newt) with 30.6% of total abundance. Thamnophis brachystoma (Short-Headed Gartersnake) comprised more than half (53.7%) of all reptiles sampled, followed by Thamnophis sirtalis (Eastern Gartersnake; 22.7%). Peromyscus leucopus (White-Footed Mouse) was the most abundant mammal species, accounting for 37.4% of all mammals surveyed, followed by Microtus pennsylvanicus (Eastern Meadow Vole; 24.8%). Mammals had the greatest species richness (S = 11), while reptiles had the greatest total abundance (TA = 361), and amphibians had the greatest species evenness (E = 0.799). Species accounts for Venango County indicate that we sampled 40.9% (9/22), 37.0% (10/27), and 21.2% (11/52) of the known amphibian, reptilian, and mammalian species, respectively, within this restored meadow habitat. Our results suggest that the restoration efforts on this easement study site have been extremely effective in creating meadow habitat that supports a diversity of prey species for the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake.

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