Les hommes ont oublié cette vérité. Mais tu ne dois pas l'oublier, dit le renard. Tu deviens responsable pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé.
Le Petit Prince, chap. 21

Friday, 19 September 2014

Effects of feral cats on the evolution of antipredator behavior in the Aegean wall lizard

Li, B. (2012). Effects of feral cats on the evolution of antipredator behaviors in the Aegean wall lizard Podarcis erhardii (Doctoral dissertation, University of Michigan).

Exotic predators such as feral cats (Felis catus), have been the driving force behind the extinction of many endemic species of island mammals, birds and reptiles. Island endemics appear to be exceptionally susceptible to invasive predators because of small population size and frequent lack of anti-predator defenses. The goal of this study was to determine the impacts of feral cats on the island populations of Aegean Wall lizards (Podarcis erhardii, Lacertidae) in relationship to the expression of anti-predator behaviors. I estimated lizard population densities in areas with low cat density sites (LCD) versus high cat density (HCD) sites by conducting 100-m transect along dry-stone walls, on the island of Naxos, as well as on surrounding islets (Cyclades, Greece). Degree of expression of antipredator behaviors was determined by measuring flight initiation distance (FID) and rates of tail autotomy both in the field and in the lab for six populations in HCD, LCD sites and four satellite islets without cat presence. I also staged controlled encounters with mounted cats decoys and quantified escaping responses from lizards from these populations. I found that feral cats had a strong negative effect on lizard population densities. Lizards adapted their antipredator behaviors in response to cat predation by extending their FIDs, increasing their capacity for tail autotomy, and by staying closer to refugia. In laboratory predation simulations, lizards from cat-free islets had significantly shorter FIDs than LCD site lizards and in particular than HCD site lizards. Furthermore, some unique islet behaviors, presumably evolved in response to lack of predators and to ameliorate chronic conditions of food shortage, appear to render islet lizards strongly susceptible to cat predation. These behaviors include rarely utilizing available refugia, and moving towards anything new, including cat decoys. Nonetheless, I found that repeated exposures over three trials led to significant increases in FIDs for all populations, indicating at least some behavioral plasticity. My results suggest that although lizards may adapt their antipredator behaviors to cope with introduced predators, this offers at best only partial protection, so that there remains strong concern about their survival in the face of expanding feral cat populations.

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