Niche partitioning among three snail-eating snakes revealed by dentition asymmetry and prey specialisation

Kai Xiang Chang, Bing Hong Huang, Min Xin Luo, Chih Wei Huang, Shu Ping Wu, Hung Ngoc Nguyen, Si Min Lin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The level of dentition asymmetry in snail-eating snakes may reflect their prey choice and feeding efficiency on asymmetric land snails. The three species of Pareas snakes (Squamata: Pareidae) in Taiwan, which form partially sympatric distribution on the island, provide a potential case to test the hypothesis of niche partitioning and character displacement with regard to dentition asymmetry and specialisation in feeding behaviour. In this study, behavioural experiments confirmed that P. formosensis feeds exclusively on slugs, whereas P. atayal and P. komaii consumed both. However, P. atayal more efficiently preys on land snails than P. komaii, exhibiting a shorter handling time and fewer mandibular retractions. Micro-CT and ancestral character reconstruction demonstrated the lowest asymmetry in P. formosensis (the slug specialist), the highest dentition asymmetry in P. atayal (the land snail specialist) and flexibility in P. komaii (the niche switcher): increased dentition asymmetry when sympatrically distributed with the slug eater (character displacement), and decreased asymmetry when living alone (ecological niche release). Ecological niche modelling showed that the distribution of P. formosensis is associated with the presence of slugs, while that of P. atayal could be explained by the land snails. Combining the results from morphology, phylogeny, behavioural experiments and ecological niche modelling, we showed that competition in the sympatric region might have facilitated character displacement among congeners, while the absence of competition in allopatric region has led to ecological niche release.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)967-977
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Volume90
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Apr

Keywords

  • ancestral character reconstruction
  • asymmetry index
  • character displacement
  • ecological niche modelling
  • feeding efficiency
  • micro-CT
  • prey preference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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