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  • Use of a Restored Prairie/Wetland Complex in Ohio by Thamnophis sirtalis (Eastern Garter Snake) and Small Mammals during the First Five Years
  • Wesley O. Smith (bio), Jack R. Marchetti (bio), Daniel R. Timmins (bio), Francis P. Biagioli (bio), Alexandra W. Hogan (bio), Olivia Grandbois (bio), and Geoffrey R. Smith (bio)

Grasslands around the world have greatly decreased due to anthropogenic modifications and activities, including those in North America (Henwood 2010, Carbutt et al. 2017). The loss of grasslands and prairies has had consequences for associated wildlife (Cagle 2008, Henwood 2010). Restoration of such habitats is one approach to address this habitat loss and to improve habitat for associated wildlife.

We report on the use of a restored prairie/wetland complex, the Granville Schools Land Lab (GSLL), by Thamnophis sirtalis (Eastern garter snake) and small mammals (Peromyscus spp., Blarina brevicauda, Microtus pennsylvanicus) during the first five years of monitoring after establishment. The loss of grassland and prairie habitats in the agricultural midwestern United States has likely had a negative effect on snake species. Therefore, restoring and increasing prairie and grassland habitats may be needed to increase snake abundance in the agricultural Midwest of the United States (Cagle 2008). In addition, snakes such as T. sirtalis can play important roles in food webs given their abundance and their position in the intermediate trophic [End Page 97]

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Table 1.

Composition of broadcast seed mixtures, tree species planted as bare root saplings, and wetland plants used at the beginning of the restoration of the Granville Schools Land Lab, Licking Co., Ohio

levels (i.e., function as both predator and prey; see review in Hafer-Lipstreu and Davis 2021). Small mammals are important in prairies and grasslands due to their diverse roles as seed predators, herbivores, insectivores, and prey (e.g., Bricker et al. 2010, St. Clair et al. 2016, Burke et al. 2020). Of particular interest is that management activities on this restoration project were interrupted because of missed prescribed burns due to limitations placed on the timing of burns by the local school district and by COVID-19 restrictions. Our study therefore examines what happens when a restoration is begun, but management efforts have been limited by external factors.

The GSLL is a 15 ha restored prairie/wetland complex with early successional and hardwood habitats in Granville, Licking County, Ohio (40°05′20.0″N, 82°32′27.0″W). Before restoration, GSLL was an agricultural field maintained on a soybean and corn rotation. The area immediately surrounding the GSLL is a mixture of agricultural fields (soybean and corn rotation) and pastureland, with the Granville Intermediate School, parking lots, and athletic fields along its western border. A two-lane driveway to the Granville Intermediate School runs along the southern edge of the GSLL and a two-lane road runs along its eastern edge. Restoration of GSLL began with abandonment of agricultural practices in Fall 2013. In December 2013 and 2014 community volunteers planted trees (mostly Quercus spp., Acer saccharum, Carya spp.; see Table 1) about 5–10 m apart in areas designated as early successional or hardwood habitat that made up 25–30% of the GSLL terrestrial habitat. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Partners for Wildlife personnel seeded the abandoned agricultural fields with a variety of prairie and grassland species in May 2014, May 2016, and January 2018 and planted additional prairie forbs (e.g., milkweed and wetland plants) in May–June 2015 (see Table 1). The vegetation in the prairie/grassland areas in the summer of 2018 consisted primarily of various grasses (e.g., Andropogon gerardii, Schizachyrium scoparium), Solidago sp. (goldenrod), and Chamaecrista fasciculata (partridge pea), as well as a variety of other prairie forbs and plants. From October to December 2014, USFWS Partners for Wildlife personnel also constructed three new ponds and renovated one existing pond which ranged in area from approximately 600 m2 to 3500 m2.

The original management plan included regularly scheduled prescribed burns of the prairie/grassland sections of the GSLL and regular mowing of the wooded sections. In addition, targeted attempted removal of invasive species (e.g., Sorghum halepense [Johnson grass]; Cirsium arvense [End Page...