Finding Ngabi (Hemiaspis damelii): Factors affecting the use of modified floodplain wetlands by an endangered snake

Damian Michael, Dale Nimmo, Emma Stevens, Tahlia Schlen, Skye Wassens

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Context. River regulation, coupled with climate change, has caused significant declines in global freshwater biodiversity. In Australia, water extraction within the Murray–Darling Basin (MDB) has reduced the frequency, extent and duration with which floodplains are inundated, resulting in widespread declines in wetland-dependent biodiversity, including reptiles. The endangered Ngabi (Hemiaspis damelii) is associated with floodplain systems in the MDB, yet its distribution and ecological requirements are poorly understood, hampering conservation actions. Aims. We sought to validate an assumption that Ngabi is associated with wetland vegetation communities before investigating factors affecting its probability of detection in the lower Murrumbidgee catchment in southern New South Wales. We predicted Ngabi occurrence patterns would relate
to frog abundance, wetland hydrology, microhabitat attributes and meteorological variables.
Methods. We compared Ngabi observations from 16 paired wetland and dryland vegetation transects to evaluate associations with vegetation type. We then used generalised linear mixed models to relate snake presence and absence to prey (frog abundance), microhabitat (logs and ground cover), wetland hydrology (water depth and inundation frequency) and meteorological conditions, using 12 repeat surveys between September 2018 and March 2021. Key results. Fifty-eight snakes were observed at five of eight wetlands during the study. Ngabi was exclusively recorded in river red gum/spike rush or lignum vegetation communities, and was absent from sandhill woodland or chenopod communities. The probability of detecting Ngabi increased with ambient temperature and weakly with wetland inundation frequency, but not frog abundance, microhabitat attributes or year. Conclusions. Ngabi is strongly associated with floodplain vegetation communities and, to some extent, frequently inundated wetlands in southern NSW, suggesting water management agencies should incorporate threatened floodplain snake species into future wetland management plans. The use of environmental water to restore aspects of flow regimes, improve wetland health and aquatic diversity is likely to benefit other wetland-dependent snake populations across the MDB. Implications. The positive relationship between Ngabi detections and ambient temperature will be important for designing an effective monitoring program for the species across the MDB. Furthermore, our findings provide insight into the benefits of using environmental water to create wetland refuges to maintain floodplain snake populations during droughts.
Original languageEnglish
JournalWildlife Research
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2023


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