Slow life history leaves endangered snake vulnerable to illegal collecting

Chris J. Jolly, Brenton von Takach, Jonathan K. Webb

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Global wildlife trade is a multibillion-dollar industry and a significant driver of vertebrate extinction risk. Yet, few studies have quantified the impact of wild harvesting for the illicit pet trade on populations. Long-lived species, by virtue of their slow life history characteristics, may be unable to sustain even low levels of collecting. Here, we assessed the impact of illegal collecting on populations of endangered broad-headed snakes (Hoplocephalus bungaroides) at gated (protected) and ungated (unprotected) sites. Because broad-headed snakes are long-lived, grow slowly and reproduce infrequently, populations are likely vulnerable to increases in adult mortality. Long-term data revealed that annual survival rates of snakes were significantly lower in the ungated population than the gated population, consistent with the hypothesis of human removal of snakes for the pet trade. Population viability analysis showed that the ungated population has a strongly negative population growth rate and is only prevented from ultimate extinction by dispersal of small numbers of individuals from the gated population. Sensitivity analyses showed that the removal of a small number of adult females was sufficient to impose negative population growth and suggests that threatened species with slow life histories are likely to be especially vulnerable to illegal collecting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5380
Number of pages1
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Mar 2021


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