Ecosystem engineers such as burrowing seabirds can increase habitat availability for sympatric taxa - but only if the burrow's owner allows other species to use the newly created shelter site. Our studies on a small Pacific island suggest that an avian burrower (the wedge-tailed shearwater Puffinus pacificus) is both a facilitator and a competitor for amphibious seasnakes. Video camera inspection of 102 burrows revealed frequent usage of these burrows as retreat sites by the snakes, with Laticauda laticaudata restricted to burrows <4m from the water's edge, whereas Laticauda saintgironsi often used burrows further inland. Snakes never occupied burrows that contained adult shearwaters, suggesting active burrow defence by the birds. Model snakes that we inserted into burrows were attacked, especially on the head and upper body, and we found one snake pecked to death outside a burrow. Wedge-tailed shearwaters act as facilitators, creating a thermally favourable microhabitat and substantially enhancing habitat suitability for snakes; but they are also competitors, aggressively competing with snakes for occupancy of the resource that has been created.
- ecosystem engineering
- shelter site