How well do predators adjust to climate-mediated shifts in prey distribution? A study on Australian water pythons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Climate change can move the spatial location of resources critical for population viability, and a species' resilience to such changes will depend upon its ability to flexibly shift its activities away from no-longer-suitable sites to exploit new opportunities. Intuition suggests that vagile predators should be able to track spatial shifts in prey availability, but our data on water pythons (Liasis fuscus) in tropical Australia suggest a less encouraging scenario. These pythons undergo regular long-range (to > 10 km) seasonal migrations to follow flooding-induced migrations by their prey (native dusky rats, Rattus colletti). However, when an extreme flooding event virtually eliminated rats for a three-year period, the local pythons did not disperse despite the presence of abundant rats only 8 km away; instead, many pythons starved to death. This inflexibility suggests that some vagile species that track seasonally migrating prey may do so by responding to habitat attributes that have consistently predicted prey availability over evolutionary time, rather than reacting to proximate cues that signal the presence of prey per se. A species' vulnerability to climate change will be increased by an inability to shift its activities away from historical sites toward newly favorable areas.

Details

Authors
  • Beata Ujvari
  • Richard Shine
  • Thomas Madsen
Organisations
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Biological Sciences

Keywords

  • climate change, dusky rats, extreme climatic events, Liasis fuscus, predator-prey demography, Rattus colletti, spatial heterogeneity, tropical Australia, vagile species, water pythons
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)777-783
JournalEcology
Volume92
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes