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Age-Dependent Utilization of Shelters and Habitat in Two Reptile Species with Contrasting Intraspecific Interactions

1
Department of Geoinformatics and Cartography, Institute of Geography and Regional Development, University of Wroclaw, pl. Uniwersytecki 1, 50-137 Wrocław, Poland
2
NATRIX Herpetological Association, ul. Legnicka 65, 54-206 Wrocław, Poland
3
Institute of Environmental Sciences, Jagiellonian University, ul. Gronostajowa 7, 30-387 Kraków, Poland
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2019, 9(11), 995; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9110995
Received: 23 September 2019 / Revised: 13 November 2019 / Accepted: 15 November 2019 / Published: 18 November 2019
(This article belongs to the Section Ecology and Conservation)
Intraspecific interactions are known to affect habitat use in birds and mammals but their role in spatial ecology of reptiles is far less recognized. Our comparative study shows that species known to exhibit intraspecific predation (smooth snake Coronella austriaca) express clearly different patterns of habitat and shelter occupancy than a species with no such cannibalistic behavior (slow worm Anguis fragilis). Specifically, juvenile smooth snakes prefer sites and shelters not occupied by the adults, even despite suboptimal habitat conditions. We propose that such division indicates an avoidance of predation pressure set by larger individuals on the younger and smaller ones. On the contrary, in slow worms no tendency for intraspecific avoidance are observed, since specimens of different ages commonly share the same area and shelters. This points to higher flexibility in habitat use in slow worms, while the smooth snake population is spatially structured, with juveniles dispersed to the margins of the population range. For endangered smooth snakes, habitat conservation should therefore include a wide buffer zone to maintain the youngest fraction of the population. Future studies on habitat utilization in squamates needs to pay more attention to the social cues, a commonly overlooked aspect in the spatial ecology of reptiles.
Reptiles undergo worldwide decline driven mostly by habitat change. Detailed recognition of factors underlying spatial structure and habitat utilization is therefore a prerequisite of effective conservation of this group. While the body of data on spatial ecology of reptiles is rapidly growing, studies on social factors remain still underrepresented. We studied age-specific patterns of shelter use, range size, and habitat preferences in the context of intraspecific interactions in the smooth snake Coronella austriaca—known to exhibit intraspecific predation—and the limbless lizard slow worm Anguis fragilis—with no such behavior observed. Despite smaller availability of preferred microhabitats, juveniles of smooth snakes occupied habitat and shelters located at the edge of the population range that did not overlap with adults. No such pattern was observed in the slow worm. Our study indicates that intraspecific interactions affect the spatial ecology of squamates. Passive and active protection of habitat must include wide buffers to preserve the poorly detectable young fraction of the population. View Full-Text
Keywords: age-dependence; spatial ecology; intraspecific predation; reptiles; habitat use age-dependence; spatial ecology; intraspecific predation; reptiles; habitat use
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MDPI and ACS Style

Kolanek, A.; Bury, S.; Turniak, E.; Szymanowski, M. Age-Dependent Utilization of Shelters and Habitat in Two Reptile Species with Contrasting Intraspecific Interactions. Animals 2019, 9, 995. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9110995

AMA Style

Kolanek A, Bury S, Turniak E, Szymanowski M. Age-Dependent Utilization of Shelters and Habitat in Two Reptile Species with Contrasting Intraspecific Interactions. Animals. 2019; 9(11):995. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9110995

Chicago/Turabian Style

Kolanek, Aleksandra; Bury, Stanisław; Turniak, Edyta; Szymanowski, Mariusz. 2019. "Age-Dependent Utilization of Shelters and Habitat in Two Reptile Species with Contrasting Intraspecific Interactions" Animals 9, no. 11: 995. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9110995

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