Can protective attributes of artificial refuges offset predation risk in lizards?

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    Abstract

    Artificial refuges are often used to supplement habitat in areas where natural shelters have been degraded or removed. Although artificial refuges are intended to support particular species, they may be equally attractive and accessible to others, including predators. We explored the influence of snake predation risk and shelter attributes on the overnight use of different artificial refuges (timber, tiles, and iron) using the predator‐prey relationship between Boulenger's skink, Morethia boulengeri and the curl snake, Suta suta. We collected adult M. boulengeri from two bioregions in south‐eastern Australia: the Riverina, where the two species co‐occur, and the South Western Slopes, where S. suta does not occur. Two adult S. suta were collected for use as chemical donors. We conducted four experiments on overnight refuge choice to determine: (i) predator‐scent avoidance, (ii) artificial refuge preferences, (iii) a trade‐off between a preferred refuge and predator‐avoidance, and (iv) the effect of gap height on refuge preference. We found that skinks avoided predator‐scented refuges in favour of identical, but unscented refuges. Skinks preferred timber refuges, and most skinks maintained this preference when predator‐scent was added. However, when gap height was manipulated, skinks shifted to the refuge with the smallest gap. Skinks displayed complex regional variation in behaviour; skinks from both bioregions avoided predator‐scent, but in the trade‐off experiment, skinks from the South Western Slopes were less likely to avoid predator‐scented timber refuges than those from the Riverina. Our findings suggest that protective refuge attributes, such as small gap height, can offset the risk implied by predator‐scent within a refuge. This study highlights the need to consider predator‐prey interactions when designing and using artificial refuges for habitat restoration or biological monitoring.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)497–507
    Number of pages11
    JournalAustral Ecology: a journal of ecology in the Southern Hemisphere
    Volume42
    Issue number4
    Early online dateNov 2016
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017

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