Habitat use by the inland carpet python (Morelia spilota metcalfei: Pythonidae): Seasonal relationships with habitat structure and prey distribution in a rural landscape

Geoffrey W. Heard, Dennis Black, Peter Robertson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

50 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Squamate reptiles are significant components of woodland vertebrate communities in eastern Australia, but their ecology is poorly understood. We investigated seasonal variation in habitat use by the Inland Carpet Python, Morelia spilota metcalfei Wells and Wellington (Pythonidae), a threatened snake that inhabits the woodland environments of the Murray-Darling Basin. Nine pythons were radiotracked within and near the Mount Meg Flora and Fauna Reserve in north-eastern Victoria to investigate how habitat structure and prey distribution (namely, that of the European Rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus L. (Leporidae)) influenced seasonal movement patterns. Data were analysed over three spatial scales to allow firm interpretations regarding resource selection. Pythons exhibited distinct seasonal trends in habitat use. During the cooler spring months, snakes chose warm, well-insulated microhabitats, primarily rocky outcrops on north- and north-west-facing hillsides. Pythons moved widely during the summer months, apparently in search of prey. Snake localities could be readily linked to rabbit distribution at this time. Specifically, snakes moved to more open, disturbed habitats that contained a high density of rabbits, and consistently selected microhabitats in close proximity to rabbit burrows. In autumn, habitat use was transitional, as snakes progressively returned to the rocky hillsides where they overwintered. Thus, trends in habitat use were influenced by the snakes' thermoregulatory and foraging strategies. Careful management of specific habitats and feral prey populations is required to conserve populations of this endangered snake.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)446-460
Number of pages15
JournalAustral Ecology
Volume29
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 01 Aug 2004

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