Effects of snake fungal disease on short-term survival, behavior, and movement in free-ranging snakes

Jennifer M. McKenzie, Steven J. Price, Grant M. Connette, Simon J. Bonner, Jeffrey M. Lorch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Pathogenic fungi are increasingly associated with epidemics in wildlife populations. Snake fungal disease (SFD, also referred to as Ophidiomycosis) is an emerging threat to snakes, taxa that are elusive and difficult to sample. Thus, assessments of the effects of SFD on populations have rarely occurred. We used a field technique to enhance detection, Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) telemetry, and a multi-state capture–mark–recapture model to assess SFD effects on short-term (within-season) survival, movement, and surface activity of two wild snake species, Regina septemvittata (Queensnake) and Nerodia sipedon (Common Watersnake). We were unable to detect an effect of disease state on short-term survival for either species. However, we estimated Bayesian posterior probabilities of >0.99 that R. septemvittata with SFD spent more time surface-active and were less likely to permanently emigrate from the study area. We also estimated probabilities of 0.98 and 0.87 that temporary immigration and temporary emigration rates, respectively, were lower in diseased R. septemvittata. We found evidence of elevated surface activity and lower temporary immigration rates in diseased N. sipedon, with estimated probabilities of 0.89, and found considerably less support for differences in permanent or temporary emigration rates. This study is the first to yield estimates for key demographic and behavioral parameters (survival, emigration, surface activity) of snakes in wild populations afflicted with SFD. Given the increase in surface activity of diseased snakes, future surveys of snake populations could benefit from exploring longer-term demographic consequences of SFD and recognize that disease prevalence in surface-active animals may exceed that of the population as a whole.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02251
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding for this project was provided by the National Geographic Society, Chicago Herpetological Society, Kentucky Academy of Sciences Marcia Athey Grant, The Wildlife Society – Kentucky Chapter, the American Society of Ichthyologists’ and Herpetologists’ Gaige Award, the University of Kentucky Eller and Billings Student Research Award, Kentucky Society of Natural History Student Research Grant, and the McIntire‐Stennis Cooperative Forestry Research Program (#1014910). G. M. Connette was partially funded by Smithsonian’s Working Land & Seascapes Initiative. For help in the field we thank J. Matthews, M. Lambert, A. Drayer, B. Slusher, S. Peters, M. Bandy, J. Hutton, and D. Smith. The use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. Author Contributions: J. M. McKenzie, S. J. Price, G. M. Connette, and J. M. Lorch developed ideas and designed the study. J. M. McKenzie and S. J. Price conducted the field work; J. M. McKenzie, S. J. Price, G. M. Connette, and S. J. Bonner analyzed the data. J. M. Lorch oversaw all molecular work. All authors contributed to the interpretation of results and writing the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Ecological Society of America. This article has been contributed to by US Government employees and their work is in the public domain in the USA.


  • Ophidiomyces ophidiicola
  • capture–mark–recapture model
  • disease
  • fungi
  • reptile

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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