Future changes in habitat availability for two specialist snake species in the imperiled rocklands of South Florida, USA
Subedi, S. C., Walls, S. C., Barichivich, W. J., Boyles, R., Ross, M. S., Hogan, J. A., & Tupy, J. A. (2022, August 30). CONSERVATION SCIENCE AND PRACTICE.
Abstract Rockland habitat in South Florida, USA, is a threatened ecosystem that has been lost, fragmented, or degraded because of urbanization or other anthropogenic disturbance. Furthermore, low‐lying islands and coastal areas are experiencing sea level rise (SLR) and an increased frequency and intensity of tidal flooding, putting rockland habitats there at increasing risk of ecological change. We evaluated changes in the extent of rockland habitat under various scenarios of future SLR, tidal flooding, and human development for two endemic state‐listed threatened species of snakes, the Rim Rock Crowned Snake ( Tantilla oolitica ) and the Key Ring‐necked Snake ( Diadophis punctatus acricus ). Both snakes are restricted to South Florida. We used recent and historical species' records to determine each species' habitat range. We then estimated the extent of future habitat loss due to SLR and continued human development, as well as degradation of the remaining habitat. We also asked whether the future potential drivers of habitat loss and degradation differ between the two species and across their habitat ranges. We predicted that saltwater intrusion could negatively affect rocklands by 2050, resulting in degradation of 80% of the existing habitat because of an anticipated 42 cm of SLR. Moreover, our model suggests short‐term stochastic events such as storm surge and high tides may increasingly saturate the root zone of rockland vegetation before complete inundation. Under the extreme scenario, we predict most of the rockland habitat used by these two species of snakes may be inundated by 2080. Under the extreme SLR scenario, current rocklands are likely to convert to more halophytic habitat (mangrove or salt marsh wetland) within 50–60 years. Under the low scenario, 31% of rockland habitat may be lost due to human development by 2030. Therefore, mitigation actions may help to conserve specialist species within rockland habitat threatened by human activities and climate change.