Old wine in new bottles: viewing modern pitviper conservation through the lens of legacy data

Davis, Mark A


Illinois Natural History Survey, Prairie Research Institute

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign,

Champaign, Illinois USA

Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Urbana, Illinois USA

Pitvipers are among the most imperiled vertebrate groups in the world, and causes for their declines range from loss of habitat to human persecution. Not only is their venom a natural biological resource for basic research and therapeutic agents, but their role as key predators and ecosystem engineers is unequivocal. Conservation of these incredible organisms is critical, yet effective conservation is often hindered in numerous ways. First, pitvipers are often long-lived with overlapping generations, which may obscure population trends. Second, modern funding and research generally follows 3-5 year cycles, often rendering it difficult to acquire data on a scale synchronous with the species’ life history. Finally, stochastic events can profoundly impact populations and yet fully and accurately assessing their impacts require data from before, during, and after the event. These factors underscore the tremendous value long-term datasets and argue for decadal-scale data acquisition. Several legacy datasets exist for pitvipers, and here we will explore the inferences gleaned, the advances gained, and the opportunities that have arisen to understand the impacts of stochastic events on natural populations. Here I will explore several of these legacy datasets, detailing the novel insights derived from them, future applications of these data, and how they can inform pitviper conservation.