2017-2018 Grant in Aid of Research

Habitat Assessment and Use, and Genetic Determination of Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes in Berrien County, Michigan Historical Sites

Roshelle M. Hall

The Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus; EMR) is a small, robust pit viper currently found in nine states and the province of Ontario, Canada. EMR inhabit shallow wetlands with few trees. These habitats have experienced significant destruction by humans, and as a result the current distribution of the EMR is a fraction of its historic distribution. For this reason, the EMR is listed as endangered or threatened in every state where it is found. Recently it has been federally listed as threatened (Service 2016). Although Michigan is considered its last stronghold, even here the EMR is a rarity, with populations becoming fragmented and therefore decreasing in numbers. In general, little is known about the current distribution of this rattlesnake, the size of local populations, or their stability and genetic diversity. The objectives of the study are to (1) assess the remaining EMR habitat (quality and size) at each of the eight historic population sites in Berrien County, (2) determine continued EMR presence using a variety of validated and novel survey techniques at selected historic population sites in Berrien County, and (3) determine genetic relatedness of Berrien County EMR with other populations. Ultimately, this study will provide scientifically based information that can be used by governing agencies and land managers to better conserve this threatened species. As a sentinel species, EMR can potentially be used to gauge the health of local wetland systems.