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Do researchers impact their study populations? Assessing the effect of field procedures in a long term population monitoring of sea kraits

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Long term population monitoring is essential to ecological studies; however, field procedures may disturb individuals. Assessing this topic is important in worldwide declining taxa such as reptiles. Previous studies focussed on animal welfare issues and examined short-term effects (e.g. increase of stress hormones due to handling). Long-term effects with possible consequences at the population level remain poorly investigated. In the present study, we evaluated the effects of widely used field procedures (e.g. handling, marking, forced regurgitation) both on short-term (hormonal stress response) and on long-term (changes in body condition, survival) scales in two intensively monitored populations of sea kraits (Laticauda spp.) in New Caledonia. Focusing on the most intensively monitored sites, from 2002 to 2012, we gathered approximately 11 200 captures/recaptures on 4500 individuals. Each snake was individually marked (scale clipping + branding) and subjected to various measurements (e.g. body size, head morphology, palpation). In addition, a subsample of more than 500 snakes was forced to regurgitate their prey for dietary analyses. Handling caused a significant stress hormonal response, however we found no detrimental long-term effect on body condition. Forced regurgitation did not cause any significant effect on both body condition one year later and survival. These results suggest that the strong short-term stress provoked by field procedures did not translate into negative effects on the population. Although similar analyses are required to test the validity of our conclusions in other species, our results suggest distinguishing welfare and population issues to evaluate the potential impact of population surveys.

Affiliations: 1: 1Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, UPR 1934-CNRS, 79360 Villiers-en-Bois, France

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/content/journals/10.1163/15685381-00002839
2012-01-03
2016-12-09

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