Sex-specific niche partitioning and sexual size dimorphism in Australian pythons (Morelia spilota imbricata)

D. Pearson, R. Shine*, R. How

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

71 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Sexual dimorphism is usually interpreted in terms of reproductive adaptations, but the degree of sex divergence also may be affected by sex-based niche partitioning. In gape-limited animals like snakes, the degree of sexual dimorphism in body size (SSD) or relative head size can determine the size spectrum of ingestible prey for each sex. Our studies of one mainland and four insular Western Australian populations of carpet pythons (Morelia spilota) reveal remarkable geographical variation in SSD, associated with differences in prey resources available to the snakes. In all five populations, females grew larger than males and had larger heads relative to body length. However, the populations differed in mean body sizes and relative head sizes, as well as in the degree of sexual dimorphism in these traits. Adult males and females also diverged strongly in dietary composition: males consumed small prey (lizards, mice and small birds), while females took larger mammals such as possums and wallabies. Geographic differences in the availability of large mammalian prey were linked to differences in mean adult body sizes of females (the larger sex) and thus contributed to sex-based resource partitioning. For example, in one population adult male snakes ate mice and adult females ate wallabies; in another, birds and lizards were important prey types for both sexes. Thus, the high degree of geographical variation among python populations in sexually dimorphic aspects of body size and shape plausibly results from geographical variation in prey availability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-125
Number of pages13
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Volume77
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2002
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Insular populations
  • Intraspecific variation
  • Sexual size dimorphism
  • Snakes

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