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Anthropogenic activity as an evolutionary driver of phenotypic variation in western rattlesnake behaviour

Macpherson, Matthew R.

Department of Biology University of British Columbia Okanagan

Kelowna, BC Canada

Ford, Adam T.

Department of Biology, BRAES Institute

University of British Columbia Okanagan Kelowna, BC Canada

Larsen, Karl W.

Department of Natural Resource Sciences

Thompson Rivers University

Kamloops, BC Canada

Environmental pressures have long been known to drive natural selection of species by influencing either evolutionary change or extinction within species. The initial response of populations to selective pressure is often behavioural, which can have long term effects on the viability and evolution of populations. While behavioural responses can be beneficial, they can also be maladaptive. Maladaptive responses most often occur when populations are subject to conditions that they have not previously encountered during their evolutionary history, such as anthropogenic-induced changes that continue to develop at an unprecedented scale and rate. Among the vertebrate taxa most at risk from human activity are snakes, with several studies already noting the effects of human activity on snake behaviour. However, most studies have only looked at single parameters for snake behavior and human activity, and there are discrepancies in their results. My study is taking a multi-variate approach to investigate which human activities are affecting snake behavior, and which of these behaviors are being significantly affected. To quantify snake behavior, I’m using a combination of radiotelemetry and anti-predator behavior experiments using the Western rattlesnake, a species-at-risk in British Columbia. Human activities such as land use, presence, and persecution are also being measured. I am also comparing behaviors between parents and offspring to determine if these behavioral trends are plastic or genetic. Preliminary results will be presented. By determining which snake behaviors are being negatively affected, to which degree, and by which activities, I’m hoping to inform land-use decisions to better conserve this species.


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