Publication Date



Open access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Biology (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Steven Green

Second Committee Member

Julian Lee

Third Committee Member

Donald DeAngelis

Fourth Committee Member

Mahmood Sasa


Understanding the ways in which animals utilize space and obtain food are central themes in modern ecology. Formulating broad principles and elucidating the factors explaining such patterns are limited, however, by the availability of data from a broad range of species and systems. This problem especially true of snakes, a predator group about which even the most basic natural history data are often entirely lacking, even among abundant, widespread, and ecologically-important species. I studied the natural history and ecosystem role of one such species, the fer-de-lance (Bothrops asper) in lowland rainforest in Costa Rica. B. asper is a large, cryptic pitviper that is highly abundant in many Central American ecosystems and is strongly relevant to human health due to high incidence of snakebite, yet its biology under natural conditions is almost entirely undocumented. I used radiotelemetry to quantify home range, movement patterns, habitat usage, and foraging behavior. B. asper was found to have smaller home ranges and reduced movement patterns than similarly-sized temperate pitvipers, likely due to a greater reliance upon ambush foraging in patches of high prey density. Snakes also demonstrated strong selection for swamp habitat, which may reflect efforts to exploit frogs as a primary food source due to low availability of small mammals at the study site. I subsequently addressed the trophic status of this B. asper population using a supplemental-feeding experiment. In comparison to control snakes, individuals receiving supplemental food had smaller home ranges, shorter and less frequent movements, increased mass acquisition, and shifted to primarily forest rather than swamp habitat. These results support the suggestion that B. asper at the study site are strongly food-limited. Finally, I tested the hypothesis that fer-de-lance mediate local seed-predation rates by influencing habitat usage and foraging behavior of rodents. A series of behavioral experiments conflicted with many existing studies in failing to support this idea, as three rodent species demonstrated little snake avoidance, and none of likely ecological relevance. Collectively, this dissertation represents the first comprehensive field study of Bothrops asper and is among the first for any tropical snake, and suggests several avenues for future research.


Home Range; Habitat Selection; Predator Avoidance; Snakes; Spatial Ecology; Feeding Ecology; Foraging; Supplemental Feeding