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Molecular analysis of the diets of snakes: changes in prey exploitation during development of the rare smooth snake Coronella austriaca

Brown, David Steven, Ebenezer, Katie L. and Symondson, William Oliver Christian 2014. Molecular analysis of the diets of snakes: changes in prey exploitation during development of the rare smooth snake Coronella austriaca. Molecular Ecology 23 (15) , pp. 3734-3743. 10.1111/mec.12475

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Reptiles are declining in many parts of the world, mainly due to habitat loss and environmental change. A major factor in this is availability of suitable food. For many animals, dietary requirements shift during developmental stages and a habitat will only be suitable for conserving a species if it supports all stages. Conventional methods for establishing diet often rely on visual recognition of morphologically identifiable features of prey in faeces, regurgitation or stomach contents, which suffer from biases and poor resolution of taxa. DNA-based techniques facilitate noninvasive analysis of diet from faeces without these constraints. We tested the hypothesis that diet changes during growth stages of smooth snakes (Coronella austriaca), which have a highly restricted distribution in the UK but are widespread in continental Europe. Small numbers of the sympatric grass snake (Natrix natrix) were analysed for comparison. Faecal samples were collected from snakes and prey DNA analysed using PCR, targeting amphibians, reptiles, mammals and invertebrates. Over 85% of smooth snakes were found to have eaten reptiles and 28% had eaten mammals. Predation on mammals increased with age and was entirely absent among juveniles and subadults. Predation on reptiles did not change ontogenetically. Smooth snakes may, therefore, be restricted to areas of sufficiently high reptile densities to support young snakes.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Biosciences
Subjects: Q Science > QH Natural history > QH301 Biology
Q Science > QL Zoology
Uncontrolled Keywords: amphibians; Coronella austriaca ; dietary analysis; grass snake; molecular diagnostics; Natrix natrix ; smooth snake
Additional Information: First published: 16 October 2013 Pdf uploaded in accordance with publisher's policy at
Publisher: Blackwell Publishing
ISSN: 0962-1083
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 27 Jun 2019 07:06

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