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Potential Consequences of Among and Within Population Variation in Diet Composition of Pigmy Rattlesnakes (Sistrurus miliarius) in Central Florida: A Dietary Analysis Using Stable Isotope TechnologyEPA Grant Number: U916160
Title: Potential Consequences of Among and Within Population Variation in Diet Composition of Pigmy Rattlesnakes (Sistrurus miliarius) in Central Florida: A Dietary Analysis Using Stable Isotope Technology
Investigators: Pilgrim, Melissa A.
Institution: University of Arkansas - Fayetteville
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: January 1, 2003 through January 1, 2006
Project Amount: $111,608
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2003) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Terrestrial Ecology and Ecosystems , Academic Fellowships , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration
The objective of this research project is to conduct a study that uses stable isotope analyses to investigate variation in diet among three populations of pigmy rattlesnakes (Sistrurus miliarius) in central Florida, along the floodplains of the St. John's River. Local variation in diet can have profound effects on bioenergetics, life history, and population dynamics. Mark-recapture analyses have revealed among-population variation in demographic and life history characteristics, even though the populations are separated by less than 4 km. My research evaluates the effect of diet composition on rattlesnake demography and life history.
I am creating carbon (13C) and nitrogen (15N) isotope profiles of potential prey items available to the rattlesnakes in each population. I have determined that the isotope composition (13C and 15N) of snake scale tissue reflects snake diet. I am determining the isotope composition of scale samples collected from snakes within each population. By matching isotope ratios of scale samples with isotope ratios of prey items, I am determining the diet composition of individual snakes within each population. Recaptures of individuals and analysis of among-segment variation in isotope ratios of individual rattles are allowing me to assess individual variation in diet. By integrating mark-recapture data sets with isotope data sets, I will correlate among-population variation in diet with among-population variation in demographic and life history characteristics. In addition, I am evaluating the energetic quality of snake prey items and investigating the effect of prey type on rattlesnake digestive efficiency. The energetic work and the digestive physiology information will provide insight into mechanisms underlying any correlation among snake isotope ratios and life history variation. Collectively, my research tests the hypothesis that life history and demographic variation observed among the three rattlesnake populations can be explained by population-specific diets.