Long-term population dynamics in a Mediterranean aquatic snake
A review of several long-term studies has recently suggested that snakes might be declining in large parts of the world. Additional data from other long-term studies are therefore urgently needed in order to assess the generalities of such suggested declines. Based on a 20-year study, we analyzed demographic data on adult dice snakes (Natrix tessellata) studied in central Italy between 1985 and 2004. Both male and female dice snakes were relatively long-lived, with no significant differences in longevity between the sexes. Individual males and females were observed over a maximum of 10 and 14 years, respectively. However, the among-year recapture rates between the year the snakes were initially captured and the subsequent year (i. e., year 1 to year 2) was significantly lower (45%) than the among-year recapture rates during subsequent years (74%; i. e., year 2 to year 3), suggesting that a large proportion of the snakes at first capture were in fact not resident within our study area, and hence many snakes were migrating in and out of our 2-km stream study site, with no inter-sexual difference in dispersal rates. Sex ratio was virtually equal if we consider the study period as a whole. Significant annual fluctuations were, however, observed through the study. In 1985-1990, 1993-1995, 1998 and 1999 the sex ratio was male-biased, whereas in 2000-2004 female-biased. In terms of both survival and recapture probabilities, model selection showed that Akaike's information criterion favored the model incorporating body size, with the model incorporating year having an intermediate likelihood, and the model with sex included being the most disfavored. Total population number estimates suggest an average 86 adult individuals along the 2 km of stream with only minor annual variations. However, a significant decrease in the number of males occurred during the last 6 years of our study. Thus, further monitoring of this population is warranted in light of the decline of snake populations reported recently.