Rainforest pythons flexibly adjust foraging ecology to exploit seasonal concentrations of prey

D. J. D. Natusch*, J. A. Lyons, R. Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The availability of prey varies through time and space, forcing predators to modify the times, places and ways in which they forage. Although studied most intensively in mammalian and avian predators, seasonal shifts in predation tactics are widespread in ectotherms also. In tropical rainforests of north-eastern Australia, scrub pythons (Simalia amethistina) congregate below the emergent trees used as communal rookeries by metallic starlings (Aplonis metallica) for four months per year, but the snakes move more widely through the landscape during the remaining 8 months. Radio-tracking of 23 pythons confirmed that the availability of nestling starlings (that often fall from the rookery trees) induces pythons to shift from ambush predation to active foraging, increases spatial concentration of pythons, reduces home-range size and decreases daily distances moved. Pythons that utilized the starling colonies preyed almost exclusively on starlings during the nesting period, whereas those from the broader environment consumed a more diverse assemblage of prey. The ability to flexibly modify foraging tactics and spatial ecology in response to ephemeral concentrations of prey may be critical for many apex predators.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-123
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of zoology
Volume313
Issue number2
Early online date18 Oct 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021

Keywords

  • behavioral plasticity
  • foraging tactics
  • Morelia kinghorni
  • predator–prey relationship
  • seasonality
  • Simalia amethistina
  • trophic ecology

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