The Concho Water Snake (Nerodia harteri paucimaculata) is confined to the Concho–Colorado River valley of central Texas, thereby occupying one of the smallest geographic ranges of any North American snake. In 1986, N. h. paucimaculata was designated as a federally threatened species, in large part because of reservoir projects that were perceived to adversely affect the amount of habitat available to the snake. During a ten-year period (1987–1996), we conducted capture–recapture field studies to assess dynamics of five subpopulations of snakes in both natural (river) and man-made (reservoir) habitats. Because of differential sampling of subpopulations, we present separate results for all five subpopulations combined (including large reservoirs) and three of the five subpopulations (excluding large reservoirs). We used multistate capture–recapture models to deal with stochastic transitions between pre-reproductive and reproductive size classes and to allow for the possibility of different survival and capture probabilities for the two classes. We also estimated both the finite rate of increase (λ) for a deterministic, stage-based, female-only matrix model using the average litter size, and the average rate of adult population change, λ ˆ, which describes changes in numbers of adult snakes, using a direct capture–recapture approach to estimation. Average annual adult survival was about 0.23 and similar for males and females. Average annual survival for subadults was about 0.14. The parameter estimates from the stage-based projection matrix analysis all yielded asymptotic values of λ < 1, suggesting populations that are not viable. However, the direct estimates of average adult λ for the three subpopulations excluding major reservoirs were λ ˆ = 1.26, SE ˆ(λ ˆ) = 0.18 and λ ˆ = 0.99, SE ˆ(λ ˆ) = 0.79, based on two different models. Thus, the direct estimation approach did not provide strong evidence of population declines of the riverine subpopulations, but the estimates are characterized by substantial uncertainty.
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Vol. 2008 • No. 2