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Different habitats, different pressures? Analysis of escape behaviour and ectoparasite load in Podarcis sicula (Lacertidae) populations in different agricultural habitats

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Human agricultural activities can deeply alter the environment thus provoking major impacts on a variety of organisms. Agricultural habitats however can be very different from one another in terms of habitat structure and management intensity, presenting varying pressures and/or benefits for different species. Agro-ecosystems can have opposing effects on reptiles and in some circumstances the presence of a species can even been enhanced by agricultural practices. We focused our study on Podarcis sicula, a relatively widespread lacertid lizard commonly present in agro-environments in Italy. We examined escape behaviour, caudal autotomy rates and ectoparasite load (tick infestation) in populations living in two different land uses, olive tree plantations and vineyards. All three aspects seemed to be deeply influenced by habitat structure. Predation pressure, as evaluated by tail break frequency, was lower in olive tree plantations, the most structurally complex habitats. In this type of habitat lizard escape behaviour was characterised by a clear preference for olive trees as refuges: individuals ran farther distances on average to reach the trees and hid inside them for a relatively long time. In vineyards, on the contrary, a less clear escape strategy was observed, showing a use of more temporary refuges. Also tick (Ixodes ricinus) infestation differed among land uses, being higher in olive tree plantations, probably in relation to vegetation cover features. Differences were found also between managements (with a higher tick load in traditional cultivations) and sexes, with males being more parasitized.

Affiliations: 1: Dipartimento di Biologia Evoluzionistica “Leo Pardi”, Via Romana 17, 50125 Florence, Italy, Museo di Storia Naturale dell'Università degli Studi di Firenze, Sezione di Zoologia “La Specola”, Via Romana 17, 50125 Florence, Italy;, Email: marta.biaggini@virgilio.it; 2: Dipartimento di Biologia Evoluzionistica “Leo Pardi”, Via Romana 17, 50125 Florence, Italy; 3: Museo di Storia Naturale dell'Università degli Studi di Firenze, Sezione di Zoologia “La Specola”, Via Romana 17, 50125 Florence, Italy

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/content/journals/10.1163/156853809789647068
2009-10-01
2016-12-04

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