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Episode 42: Snake and Sea Turtle Conservation with Dr. David A. Steen

Dr. David A. Steen is a wildlife ecologist and renowned scientist studying snakes and now sea turtles. He is currently a research scientist with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island, Georgia within the United States. He is formally a faculty member from Auburn University where he earned his PhD in 2011. He also earned his Master’s of Science degree from New York-College of Environmental Science and Forestry and his Bachelors of Science degree from the University of New Hampshire. Dr. Steen is an avid science communicator and he reaches thousands each week through his blog and other social media. Here are his links:

Georgia Sea Turtle Center: 

The Alongside Wildlife Foundation

Living Alongside Wildlife Blog

Personal Website



Instagram and Twitter: @AlongsideWild

The Following Are Exerts From Dr. Steen’s Website

I am the Research Ecologist of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island, Georgia, the Executive Director of The Alongside Wildlife Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, and serve on the Board of Directors of the Wildlands Network.

ldo Leopold said, “There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot.” I am one of the latter. As a wildlife ecologist and conservation biologist, my goals are to generate a better understanding of how wildlife populations use landscapes and recommendations regarding how we can develop, farm, restore, and live on these landscapes while accommodating wildlife and natural ecological processes. As a science communicator, I want you to understand why I value and appreciate these wild landscapes.

Restoration of Bird and Reptile Assemblages in Degraded and Fire-suppressed Longleaf Pine Forests

Longleaf Pine forests once spanned throughout the coastal plain of the southeastern United States but have been reduced to a fraction of their historic extent, making this unique ecosystem one of the most endangered on the continent. Longleaf Pine forests that aren’t developed or converted to agricultural fields were often managed without fire; however, periodic burning is essential for this forest to maintain its natural structure and associated species. Interest is growing in the restoration of remaining Longleaf Pine forests but there is little information regarding how to achieve this restoration over the long-term, particularly when restoration of wildlife assemblages is a goal. To fill this information gap, my collaborators (notably Craig Guyer at Auburn University and Lora Smith at Ichauway) and I studied Longleaf Pine forests on Eglin Air Force Base that were once fire-suppressed but have been managed with fire (and various other related techniques) over the past 15 years.

Interactions Between Snakes Influence How Different Species Persist Together

My work has provided quantitative evidence that dynamic and ongoing interspecific interactions may influence the composition of snake assemblages, upending the paradigm that snake co-occurrence is due largely to resource partitioning that arose over evolutionary time. Specifically, my collaborators (notably Chris McClure) and I have described how the presence of one snake, such as the Eastern Diamond-backed Rattlesnake, reduces the probability that similar snakes (i.e., Timber Rattlesnakes) are present above and beyond any habitat preferences (Steen et al. 2007. Journal of Wildlife Management 71:759-764), a trend we attribute to competition over resources (Steen et al. 2014. Journal of Animal Ecology 83:286-295). Speaking of competition, we have also described how Black Racers are smaller in areas where the larger Coachwhip is present; this shift in body size may result from competition over prey (Steen et al. 2013. Journal of Zoology 289:86-93). Most recently, we explored how the abundance of the snake-eating (and mysteriously declining) Kingsnake may keep in check the abundance of one of their favorite prey items, the Copperhead (Steen et al. 2014. Herpetologica 70:69-76). The relationship between these species may explain why many Copperheads are now being observed in areas where Kingsnakes have disappeared.

Peer-reviewed Journal Articles


Goetz, S. G., J. C. Godwin, M. Hoffman, F. Antonio, and D. A. Steen. Eastern Indigo Snakes exhibit a strong innate response to pit viper scent and an ontogenetic shift in their response to mouse scent. Herpetologica: in press.


Steen, D. A., K. Barrett, E. Clarke, and C. Guyer. 2017. Conceptualizing communities as natural entities: a philosophical argument with basic and applied implications. Biology and Philosophy: in press.

Steen, D. A., and O. Robinson. 2017. Estimating freshwater turtle mortality rates and population declines following hook ingestion. Conservation Biology 31:1333-1339.

Steen, D. A., and D. Kelly. 2017. Interspecific combat observed among viperid snakes. Ecology 98:1727-1728.

  1. U. Van Dyke, C. M. B. Jachowski, D. A. Steen, B. P. Jackson, and W. A. Hopkins. 2017. Spatial differences in trace element bioaccumulation in turtles exposed to a partially remediated coal fly-ash spill. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 36:201-211.


Godwin, J. C., D. A. Steen, D. Werneke, and J. W. Armbruster. 2016. Two significant records of exotic neotropical freshwater fish observed in southern Alabama. Southeastern Naturalist 15:57-60.

Reed, R. N., M. W. Hopken, D. A. Steen, B. G. Falk, and A. J. Piaggio. 2016. Integrating early detection with DNA barcoding: species identification of a non-native monitor lizard (Squamata: Varanidae) carcass in Mississippi, USA. Management of Biological Invasions 7:193-197.

Steen, D. A., J. A. Stiles, S. H. Stiles, J. C. Godwin, and C. Guyer. 2016. Observations of feeding behavior by reintroduced Indigo Snakes in southern Alabama. Herpetological Review 47:11-13.


July 05, 2018
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