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Georgia Journal of Science

Article Title

SEASONAL CHANGES IN REPTILE DIVERSITY AND DISTRIBUTION ACROSS VARYING ENVIRONMENTS IN SMITHGALL WOODS STATE PARK, WHTE COUNTY, GEORGIA**

Abstract

Reptiles are essential to the health of North Georgia ecosystems, primarily by acting as important components of the food webs that aid in population control of insects and small rodents. Additionally, due to their ectothermic physiology, reptiles are sensitive to environmental alterations resulting from climate change and other anthropogenic activities. Understanding the diversity and distribution of these populations in heterogenous environments across seasons can provide essential information for conservation and management strategies, as well as a better understanding of the impact of climate change on these organisms. In this study, we present data on three sites located within Smithgall Woods State Park (SWSP) in White County, Georgia. Each study site has distinctive environmental differences in regard to elevation, terrain, vegetation, and canopy coverage. Habitat assessments were performed in each site, and an ongoing extensive survey of snake and turtle populations is being implemented during each season of the year. All individuals captured are marked with a unique code, and a series of morphological measurements (e.g., carapace dimensions, snout to vent length) and health assessments (e.g., presence of scarring, fungal infections, external parasites) are taken to quantify changes in individuals and the population across time. Using these data, we will be able to determine if there are certain periods of the year or environmental circumstances where reptiles are especially susceptible to harm. This information can then be used to implement management and conservation strategies targeting taxa and localities (within SWSP) that are particularly vulnerable during certain periods of the year. These strategies can then provide a framework for similar localities around Northeast Georgia.

Acknowledgements

UNG Dept. of Biology, CURCA,and Will Wagner

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