The last remaining populations of broad-headed snakes are being threatened by encroaching woodland that is destroying their habitat, a study by scientists from the University of Sydney and Stanford University (USA) has shown.
"Broad-headed snakes are only found living in small pockets within 200 km of Sydney, and those small communities are fast becoming extinct or increasingly more rare," said Professor Rick Shine from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney, co-author on the new paper published online in British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology.
As part of a 17-year study investigating causal factors in the decline of the colourful broad-headed snake, Professor Shine and colleague Dr Jonathan Webb, also from the University of Sydney, with Rob Pringle and Mindy Syfert of Stanford University, examined trends in habitat availability of Australia's most endangered snake.
Using historical and current images of Morton National Park, 160 km south of Sydney, the research team compared aerial photographs taken in the 1940s and 1970s with satellite images taken in 2006 to ascertain the relative coverage of vegetation and bare sandstone in each year.
"The results indicate that the amount of bare sandstone, which is critical habitat for broad-headed snakes and their prey, has decreased steadily over the past 65 years," Professor Shine said.
The study also showed that total vegetation cover in Morton National Park – an area currently inhabited by broad-headed snakes – has increased over the same 65-year interval.
"The reason for the proliferation of vegetation is not known. In other parts of Australia, vegetation thickening has been attributed to altered Aboriginal fire regimes or to 20th-century climatic change," said Professor Shine.
Dr Jonathan Webb believes increased plant cover may be a problem for this endangered species due to the increased shading conferred by the vegetation.
"Prior studies have shown that broad-headed snakes require sunny, hot-rocks for shelter. Shaded rocks do not reach sufficiently high temperatures for the snakes to hunt their lizard prey effectively in the evenings," he said.
"The trend is clear – as the vegetation cover increases, the snakes' available habitat decreases. Our results indicate that active management is required if the nation's most endangered snake species is to be saved from extinction," Dr Webb said.
Such management might take several forms, say the study's authors. Regular, controlled burns might open up the forest canopy and prevent tree seedling establishment on the westerly rock escarpments favoured by the reptiles. Alternatively, if controlled burns are deemed too expensive or too dangerous to implement, then foresters might clear overhanging vegetation in areas known to be important to the snakes.
Although broad-headed snakes would benefit from controlled burns, the extreme risks of bushfires in Australia must be weighed against the expected gains.
"As with all decisions in environmental management, the decision should be made on the basis of the best available information about the likely costs and benefits of the different strategies. This includes the potential collateral impacts upon other species of concern," warns Professor Shine.
Melanie Thomson | EurekAlert!
Further reports about: > Aboriginal fire regimes > Australia > Regular, controlled burns > biological sciences > broad-headed snakes > bush fires > colourful broad-headed snake > encroaching woodland > environmental management > forest canopy > hot-rocks > lizard > most endangered snake > vegetation cover
Joint research project on wastewater for reuse examines pond system in Namibia
19.12.2016 | Technische Universität Darmstadt
Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon
09.12.2016 | Wildlife Conservation Society
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).
Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...
Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.
The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...
UMD, NOAA collaboration demonstrates suitability of in-orbit datasets for weather satellite calibration
"Traffic and weather, together on the hour!" blasts your local radio station, while your smartphone knows the weather halfway across the world. A network of...
Fiber-reinforced plastics (FRP) are frequently used in the aeronautic and automobile industry. However, the repair of workpieces made of these composite materials is often less profitable than exchanging the part. In order to increase the lifetime of FRP parts and to make them more eco-efficient, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) and the Apodius GmbH want to combine a new measuring device for fiber layer orientation with an innovative laser-based repair process.
Defects in FRP pieces may be production or operation-related. Whether or not repair is cost-effective depends on the geometry of the defective area, the tools...
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
05.01.2017 | Event News
16.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
16.01.2017 | Information Technology
16.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering