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A Different Kind of Canary April 28, 2010

Posted by ecogeeko10 in Ecology, Environment/Conservation, Genetics.

timber rattlesnake

What’s the difference between a canary and a timber rattlesnake? Not much if you’re a conservation biologist who is examining the effects of habitat fragmentation on biodiversity.

A recent study by a group of Cornell University researchers shows that even some of the simplest forms of human disturbances are having large impacts on biodiversity. Timber rattlesnakes in particular, have been a major focus in the northeastern region of the U.S. because these scientists have been able to utilize fine-scale molecular genetics and microsatellite markers to track the rattlesnake populations. They are finding that fragmentation caused by small scale road development is having a more than noticeable effect on the genetic diversity of these snakes. For this reason, one could compare the rattlesnakes in this study to canaries in a coal mine.

Of the 500 individual snakes taken from four separate regions and 19 hibernacula, none of the genetic clusters spanned either major or minor roads. This greatly proves to the non-believers that roads are indeed significant barriers that limit the dispersal and other natural processes necessary for species survival. Don’t assume, though, that this is only affecting the timber rattlesnake populations. Countless other studies show that habitat fragmentation is causing the demise of many of our planet’s species. Nevertheless, this study is unique because it only deals with roads. When people think of habitat fragmentation, they usually think of rainforest deforestation or mountaintop removal—they don’t always realize that something as common as a road can be quite detrimental to a species. Hopefully this study will help us to learn to notice the “smaller things” that can hurt the environment and maybe we can be inspired to do something about it.

The Song of the Dodo

Before I end this blog, I just wanted to mention that there are a few books that I hope to read this summer, including a book called The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in the Age of Extinction, by David Quammen. This greatly relates to this recent study that was done with timber rattlesnakes because it talks about habitat fragmentation and its implications on biodiversity. I am hoping to learn something from this book and I was also thinking that it would be cool if others read it too. Perhaps we could even discuss our thought of the book at the end of the summer (via the MU Blog)! I am also willing to take other book suggestions—it could be like an “online summer book club” or something. Let me know what you think!


1. Dr. O - April 29, 2010

Online book club=AWESOME! I’ll read it with you!

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