Integrating radio telemetry and accelerometry to monitor the spatial and temporal movement patterns of snakes

DeSantis, Dominic L.

dominic.desantis@gcsu.edu


Tipton, Anna F.

Thompson, Morgan

Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences

Georgia College and State University

Milledgeville, Georgia USA


Clark, Rulon W.

Hanscom, Ryan

Department of Biology

San Diego State University

San Diego, California USA


Mata-Silva, Vicente

Johnson, Jerry D.

Wagler, Amy

Department of Biological Sciences

University of Texas at El Paso

El Paso, Texas USA


Diosdado, Jorge

School of Veterinary Medicine and Science

University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonington Campus

Leicestershire, United Kingdom


Hand-held radio telemetry has historically represented the best available tool for quantifying the movement behavior of relatively small and secretive taxa, such as snakes. However, labor intensive protocols often limit spatial estimates of movement to relatively coarse temporal resolutions. These constraints hinder inspection of fine-scale patterns over long time periods, precluding the detection of shifts in the duration and timing of movement that might occur without changes in spatial metrics. Integrating radio telemetry (RT) and accelerometry (ACT) circumvents these limitations, providing protocols for simultaneous monitoring of spatial and finescale temporal movement patterns in snakes for up to 10 months. Rechargeable batteries also allow repeated use of ACTs, enhancing cost-effectiveness. Here, we report on the recent validation of this technique with Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes (Crotalus atrox) in west Texas along with ongoing extensions with Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) in middle Georgia. Using this integrative approach, researchers can evaluate patterns associated with broader spatial and finer temporal patterns of movement and, as a result, more confidently evaluate the causes and consequences of variation in snake movement behavior. Moving forward, we aim to refine accelerometry protocols in snakes so that additional cryptic behaviors are identifiable beyond general movement and immobility, including foraging and reproductive behaviors.