Geographic variation in antipredator behaviour within wide-ranging species may be driven by both genetic and environmental influences. We quantified antipredator responses in neonatal (laboratory born, n=555) and adult (field caught, n=346) tiger snakes (Notechis scutatus) from 11 mainland and island sites in southern Australia. We used these data to test predictions from Bonnet et al.'s hypothesis that the vigour of antipredator responses in this species reflects behavioural plasticity (in turn, driven by an individual snake's exposure to predators during its lifetime) rather than by genetic variation in this trait. We used the number of predator taxa in each area as an index of predator risk. As predicted, adult snakes from predator-rich areas had more vigorous defensive responses when handled, whereas neonatal behaviour (although also variable among populations) was unrelated to predator species richness. Adult males bit more readily than adult females (as expected from the greater predation exposure of males during mate searching) but no such sex difference was evident in neonates. Although alternative models remain possible, our data are most consistent with the hypothesis that geographic divergence in antipredator tactics within this species primarily reflects developmentally plastic responses to local predation risk.
- behavioural plasticity