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

Animals (Basel). 2019 Nov 18;9(11):995. doi: 10.3390/ani9110995.


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.

Keywords: age-dependence; habitat use; intraspecific predation; reptiles; spatial ecology.