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Context-dependent avoidance of predatory centipedes by nocturnal geckos (Oedura lesueurii)

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Most research on the anti-predator behaviour of vertebrate prey has focused on their responses to vertebrate predators. Nonetheless, invertebrates are abundant predators in terrestrial ecosystems, and some invertebrates (e.g., centipedes, spiders) attack and consume vertebrates. We used a combination of field data and laboratory experiments to determine whether a predatory centipede (Scolopendridae: Cormocephalus sp.) influences habitat selection by the nocturnal rock-dwelling velvet gecko, Oedura lesueurii. In the field, centipedes and geckos were syntopic, and sheltered beneath rocks with similar physical dimensions, thermal regimes and degree of sun exposure. Nonetheless, geckos rarely shared rocks with centipedes in the field. In laboratory trials, both geckos and centipedes selected shelters with narrow rather than wide crevices. The presence of a centipede modified habitat selection by juvenile geckos, which preferred wide crevices without centipedes to narrow crevices containing centipedes. In contrast, adult geckos continued to select narrow crevices even if these contained centipedes. When we added centipedes to narrow crevices beneath small and large rocks occupied by geckos, both juvenile and adult geckos exited the crevice (especially if it was under a small rather than large rock). Our results show that centipedes influence habitat selection by velvet geckos, and demonstrate that anti-predator behaviours of geckos are both size- and context-dependent. Ontogenetic shifts in behaviour and habitat selection by vertebrates in response to invertebrate predators may be widespread.

Affiliations: 1: School of Biological Sciences A08, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia;, Email: david.pike22@gmail.com; 2: School of Biological Sciences A08, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia

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