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Divergence in life-history traits among three populations of the sea snake Emydocephalus anulatus

posted on 2022-06-10, 02:49 authored by Rick ShineRick Shine, Greg BrownGreg Brown, Claire Goiran
Life-history traits such as rates of growth, survival and reproduction can vary though time within a single population, or through space among populations, due to abiotically-driven changes in resource availability. In terrestrial reptiles, parameters such as temperature and rainfall generate variation in life-histories – but other parameters likely are more important in marine systems. We studied three populations of sea snakes (Emydocephalus annulatus) in adjacent bays in the IndoPacific archipelago of New Caledonia. The extreme philopatry of individual snakes allows us to unambiguously allocate each animal to one of the three populations. Although water temperatures and rainfall do not differ over this small scale, one site experiences more intense winds, restricting opportunities for foraging. Our 18-year mark-recapture dataset (>1,200 snakes, >2,400 captures) reveals significant divergence among populations in life-history traits. Survival rates and population densities were similar among sites, but snakes at the most wind-exposed site (Anse Vata) exhibited lower body condition, slower growth, less frequent production of litters, and smaller litters. Weather-driven variation in feeding rates thus may affect life-history traits of marine snakes as well as their terrestrial counterparts, but driven by different parameters (e.g., wind exposure rather than variation in temperatures or rainfall).


Annual mark-recapture surveys of populations of snakes in three adjacent bays near Noumea, in New Caledonia.

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