Western whip snakes are among the species in decline
Snake populations plummet
Could snakes worldwide be going the same way as frogs and fish? A study of 11 snake species in locations across the UK, France, Italy, Nigeria, and Australia suggests that snake populations may be suffering a widespread decline.
Christopher Reading of the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and an international team aggregated data on snake populations from past studies, including surveys that they carried out themselves. They found that 11 of the 17 populations of snakes studied plummeted between 1998 and 2002, and remained low until the studies ended in 2008 and 2009. Five populations were stable, with one increasing slightly.
The crash was seen in the UK, France, Italy and Nigeria, with females more seriously affected than males. The causes of these steep declines are unknown, but the team believes they reflect a change in the quality of habitats, such as a growing shortage of appropriate ground cover, or less abundant prey. Worryingly, half of the species in parks and reserves suffered sharp declines.
The number of regions for which the researchers have long-term data is limited, so they cannot yet prove that they are witnessing a global decline. "We want to flag up what we think may be happening so that other snake researchers can start looking at their data and see whether they've got similar patterns," says Reading.
Journal reference: Biology Letters, DOI: 10.1098/rsbl20100373