Anthropogenic Impacts on Herpetofaunal Diversity and Community Composition on a Barrier Island in the Southeastern United States
Hanson, Keith Miller
McElroy, Eric J
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Habitat loss and degradation often negatively impact reptiles and amphibians. Understanding how human-induced habitat changes impact herpetofauna is crucial for effective conservation and management of their populations. My goal was to determine the impacts of human development on the herpetofauna of Kiawah Island, a barrier island in South Carolina, USA. I used drift fence arrays with pit and snake traps, cover boards and visual encounter surveys to sample herpetofauna at twelve sites in three areas along a gradient of developmental density (low, moderate and high). Species richness was highest in the low development area with 16 species, while the moderate and high areas contained 14 and 13 species, respectively. Abundance was also highest in the low development area with 587 individuals encountered. Amphibian diversity was highest in the low development area, while reptile diversity was highest in the moderate and high development areas. Species richness and abundance were significantly higher in forest habitats than in sand dunes. Fragment size had no impact on species richness, abundance or evenness, whereas canopy cover, plant species richness, and site elevation best explained variation in herpetofaunal species richness and abundance on the island. Community composition was fundamentally different between development areas, with the largest number of families, and largest range of sensitive species found in the low development area. Certain sensitive species were entirely absent from the high development area of the island, and were only found in the least developed, most inaccessible sites. Furthermore, the low development area had four unique species, whereas the moderate area hand one and high area had none. These results suggest that development on Kiawah has impacted species diversity and composition, as areas of high development area associated with low species counts and reduced numbers of sensitive species. Continued development and habitat modification on Kiawah will likely result in a herpetofaunal community dominated by a few, disturbance-tolerant species. These results indicate that a mixture of various levels of development, some of which must be low, may have the ability to maintain herpetofaunal species diversity and composition on Kiawah.