Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Biology (PhD)

Degree Level



Biological Sciences


Steven Beaupre

Committee Member

Sarah E DuRant

Second Committee Member

John D Willson

Third Committee Member

Christian K Tipsmark


Herpetology;Nutrition;Physiology;Specific Dynamic Action


Nutritional ecology aims to understand the factors that shape the diets of animals, how these ingested meals are processed, and how the assimilated nutrients are used to shape an organism’s interactions with its environment. As environmental parameters are altered due to anthropogenic changes, the availability and quality of prey may be altered. The alteration of the nutritional landscape can be devastating to nutritional specialists, yet generalist predators may be able to cope with these changes. The western cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus leucostoma) is a unique semiaquatic pitviper that can both forage along the land-water interface and in upland habitat when faced with drought conditions. Given the potentially wide diet breath of this species, how would it respond to shifts in prey base? Is there a relationship between prey preference and digestive performance of the cottonmouth? I explored this question using stable isotope dietary analysis, behavioral prey preference trials, and measurement of the metabolic response to feeding (specific dynamic action). The notoriously wide diet breath of the cottonmouth was verified through stable isotope analysis, where animals were consuming various fish and frog species, and potentially crayfish. Prey preference trials conducted using an X maze showed that these snakes would readily eat fish, frog, and mouse, yet they showed a very strong aversion to crayfish. Of the prey types that were readily eaten by cottonmouths, mouse meals generated the highest overall specific dynamic action response while fish and frog meals were comparable to one another.

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