Last lizard standing

the enigmatic persistence of the Komodo dragon

Richard Shine*, Ruchira Somaweera

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

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Abstract

To understand why much of the world's terrestrial megafauna went extinct within the last 50,000 years, we can look at the exceptions: large-bodied species that avoided that fate. The Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) is tenfold heavier than almost any other surviving lizard species, is currently restricted to small islands, and relies on scavenging as well as predation – attributes that doomed other megafaunal taxa to extinction. How did these giant reptiles persist? We suggest that the Komodo dragons' survival reflects general attributes of ectotherms (low energy demands; an ability to reduce mean adult body sizes during resource shortages)coupled with features of varanid biology (behavioural and ecological flexibility that allowed utilization of marine subsidies; salt tolerance), the habitat (a fragmented arid landscape better-suited to reptiles than to humans; and with substantial spatial and temporal variation in rainfall patterns and thus productivity), and the history of hominid colonization (when modern humans arrived, they brought with them novel prey [pigs]that blunted the impacts of hunting and habitat degradation). In short, the surprising persistence of the Komodo dragon is not due to any single unique attribute, but instead reflects a fortunate combination of factors relating to the species, the habitat, and the timeframe and nature of human colonization.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00624
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalGlobal Ecology and Conservation
Volume18
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019

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Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2019. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.

Keywords

  • conservation
  • extinction
  • Indonesia
  • Pleistocene overkill
  • reptile

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