Biogeographic consequences of shifting climate for the western massasauga (Sistrurus tergeminus). Academic Article uri icon


  • The western massasauga (Sistrurus tergeminus) is a small pit viper with an extensive geographic range, yet observations of this species are relatively rare. They persist in patchy and isolated populations, threatened by habitat destruction and fragmentation, mortality from vehicle collisions, and deliberate extermination. Changing climates may pose an additional stressor on the survival of isolated populations. Here, we evaluate historic, modern, and future geographic projections of suitable climate for S.tergeminus to outline shifts in their potential geographic distribution and inform current and future management. We used maximum entropy modeling to build multiple models of the potential geographic distribution of S.tergeminus. We evaluated the influence of five key decisions made during the modeling process on the resulting geographic projections of the potential distribution, allowing us to identify areas of model robustness and uncertainty. We evaluated models with the area under the receiver operating curve and true skill statistic. We retained 16models to project both in the past and future multiple general circulation models. At the last glacial maximum, the potential geographic distribution associated with S.tergeminus occurrences had a stronghold in the southern part of its current range and extended further south into Mexico, but by the mid-Holocene, its modeled potential distribution was similar to its present-day potential distribution. Under future model projections, the potential distribution of S.tergeminus moves north, with the strongest northward trends predicted under a climate scenario increase of 8.5W/m2. Some southern populations of S.tergeminus have likely already been extirpated and will continue to be threatened by shifting availability of suitable climate, as they are already under threat from desertification of grasslands. Land use and habitat loss at the northern edge of the species range are likely to make it challenging for this species to track suitable climates northward over time.

published proceedings

  • Ecol Evol

altmetric score

  • 0.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Walkup, D. K., Lawing, A. M., Hibbitts, T. J., & Ryberg, W. A.

citation count

  • 0

complete list of authors

  • Walkup, Danielle K||Lawing, Anna Michelle||Hibbitts, Toby J||Ryberg, Wade A

publication date

  • January 2022