Spatial subdivision within a population of tropical pythons (Liasis fuscus) in a superficially homogeneous habitat

Thomas Madsen*, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Based on 10 years of intensive fieldwork, we describe the spatial and temporal distribution of water pythons (Liasis fuscus) on the Adelaide River floodplain, Northern Territory, Australia. Our study provides a cautionary tale, because it was only after several years' work that we realized that our apparently panmictic study 'population' in fact consisted of three subpopulations that were separated during breeding activities although they intermingled for most of the year. The partitioning of the populations is due to the restricted availability and spatial separation of suitable nest-sites (varanid burrows vs root complexes of paperbark trees). Groups of snakes using each type of nest-site comprise quite separate breeding populations, because females move to these sites prior to mating. Snakes return to the same breeding sites year after year, with little dispersal between populations (even though snakes from each population often move through other breeding sites during the non-breeding period). The three subpopulations differed in many traits, including body-size distributions, age structures, the proportions of reproductive animals, survival rates, timing of reproduction, and reproductive frequencies. Thus, if our study had involved only one of the subpopulations (as would typically be the case with studies of this kind), we would have obtained a misleading view of the 'real' (i.e. average) ecological characteristics of our study organisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)340-348
Number of pages9
JournalAustral Ecology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Genetic fragmentation
  • Metapopulation
  • Population ecology
  • Snakes
  • Tropics


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