Effects of oceanic salinity on body condition in sea snakes

François Brischoux*, Virginie Rolland, Xavier Bonnet, Matthieu Caillaud, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Since the transition from terrestrial to marine environments poses strong osmoregulatory and energetic challenges, temporal and spatial fluctuations in oceanic salinity might influence salt and water balance (and hence, body condition) in marine tetrapods. We assessed the effects of salinity on three species of sea snakes studied by mark-recapture in coral-reef habitats in the Neo-Caledonian Lagoon. These three species include one fully aquatic hydrophiine (Emydocephalus annulatus), one primarily aquatic laticaudine (Laticauda laticaudata), and one frequently terrestrial laticaudine (Laticauda saintgironsi). We explored how oceanic salinity affected the snakes' body condition across various temporal and spatial scales relevant to each species' ecology, using linear mixed models and multimodel inference. Mean annual salinity exerted a consistent and negative effect on the body condition of all three snake species. The most terrestrial taxon (L. saintgironsi) was sensitive to salinity over a short temporal scale, corresponding to the duration of a typical marine foraging trip for this species. In contrast, links between oceanic salinity and body condition in the fully aquatic E. annulatus and the highly aquatic L. laticaudata were strongest at a long-term (annual) scale. The sophisticated salt-excreting systems of sea snakes allow them to exploit marine environments, but do not completely overcome the osmoregulatory challenges posed by oceanic conditions. Future studies could usefully explore such effects in other secondarily marine taxa such as seabirds, turtles, and marine mammals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-244
Number of pages10
JournalIntegrative and Comparative Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2012
Externally publishedYes


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