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Food availability induces geographic variation in reproductive timing of an aquatic oviparous snake (Natrix maura)

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image of Amphibia-Reptilia

The viperine snake Natrix maura is a common water snake, which forages on aquatic prey such as fish and frogs in Western Mediterranean water bodies. Female viperine snakes collected from three populations at the Iberian Peninsula during the vitellogenesis period were compared. Mean clutch size and range, as well as the slope of the regression between body size and clutch size, did not show differences between populations. In contrast, mean size of enlarged follicles of females collected in May from the Ebro Delta proved significantly smaller than those of females from the Matarranya River (50 km far) and the Granada Depression (500 km far). There were no differences in climatic conditions between areas. However, seasonal variation in food availability was significantly different in the Ebro Delta. In this area, the rice fields are dry in early spring as men control the water flow, and prey are not available. This energetic constraint induced female viperine snakes to adjust reproductive timing according to seasonal availability and to delay vitellogenesis for at least one month. By contrast, other Mediterranean populations exhibited a rather high prey availability from early spring (e.g. Matarranya River), females being in good condition in this season and consequently vitellogenesis starting earlier than in the Ebro Delta. This study illustrates a new case of reproductive plasticity in snakes.


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