Venomous snakes are among the main sources of mortality for humans in rural regions, especially in tropical countries. In this study, a meta-analysis of quantitative community ecology studies on snake assemblages throughout the world was conducted in order to evaluate variation in the frequency of occurrence of venomous species and venomous individuals by habitat and continent. A bibliographic search was done by consulting “Google Scholar” and “ISI Web of Knowledge”. In total, 24,200 results were obtained from our bibliographic search, out of which 60 independent studies reporting raw and analyzable quantitative data from 81 distinct snake communities were retained and used for analyses. A snow-ball procedure was also used to uncover additional studies to include in the analyses. We gathered data on a total of 30,537 snake individuals, with an average of almost 30% of venomous individuals. The mean number of sympatric species was 19, whereas the mean number of sympatric venomous species was almost 5. Venomous snake species accounted for 24.4% of the total species in each community—almost the same as the overall percentage of venomous snake species known worldwide (about 24%). The frequency of occurrence of venomous individuals did not differ significantly between tropical and temperate snake communities, and the same was true for the frequency of venomous species within each community. Thus, the greater number of snakebites in tropical countries is not due to there being more venomous snake species or individuals. The total number of species and the number of venomous species observed in each community were positively correlated, and there was a significant difference among continents in terms of the mean number of species in each community. Within communities, there were inter-continental and inter-habitat differences in both the percentage of venomous species and in the percentage of venomous individuals. The Generalized Linear Model (GLM) revealed that the frequency of venomous species at a local scale depended only on the total number of species inhabiting a given site, whereas the frequency of venomous individuals within communities depended on both the total number of species and a habitat–continent interaction. Our meta-analysis could enable the appropriate authorities/agencies to take the relative abundance of venomous species/individuals within snake assemblages into consideration for a better positioning of the first aid centers in locations where snake antivenoms should be available.
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