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Trophic niche overlap in two syntopic colubrid snakes (Hierophis viridiflavus and Zamenis longissimus) with contrasted lifestyles

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In many organisms, including snakes, trophic niche partitioning is an important mechanism promoting species coexistence. In ectotherms, feeding strategies are also influenced by lifestyle and thermoregulatory requirements: active foragers tend to maintain high body temperatures, expend more energy, and thus necessitate higher energy income. We studied diet composition and trophic niche overlap in two south European snakes (Hierophis viridiflavus and Zamenis longissimus) in the northern part of their range. The two species exhibit contrasted thermal adaptations, one being highly mobile and thermophilic (H. viridiflavus) and the other being elusive with low thermal needs (Z. longissimus). We analyzed feeding rate (proportion of snakes with indication of a recent meal) and examined more than 300 food items (fecal pellets and stomach contents) in 147 Z. longissimus and 167 H. viridiflavus. There was noticeable overlap in diet (overlap of Z. longissimus on H. viridiflavus = 0.62; overlap of H. viridiflavus on Z. longissimus = 0.80), but the similarity analyses showed some divergence in diet composition. Dietary spectrum was wider in H. viridiflavus, which fed on various mammals, birds, reptiles, and arthropods whereas Z. longissimus was more specialized on mammals and birds. The more generalist nature of H. viridiflavus was consistent with its higher energy requirements. In contrast to our expectation, feeding rate was apparently higher in Z. longissimus than in H. viridiflavus, but this could be an artifact of a longer transit time in Z. longissimus, given its lower mean body temperature. These results allow a better understanding of the ability to coexist in snakes belonging to temperate climate colubrid communities.

Affiliations: 1: 3Département de biologie, Université Laval, Québec, G1V 0A6 Canada; 2: 4Département de biologie, Université d’Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 6N5 Canada; 3: 1Centre d’Études Biologiques de Chizé, CNRS, 79360 Villiers en Bois, France

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