What do stable isotopes tell us about the trophic ecology of Thamnodynastes hypoconia (Serpentes: Dipsadidae) in southern Brazil?
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Snakes are a useful model for ecological studies because they are gape-limited predators that may undergo ontogenetic changes in diet. We analyzed carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios to estimate percent contributions of different prey to snake biomass, trophic positions and isotopic niche width of juveniles and adults of the snake Thamnodynastes hypoconia. We also estimated the isotopic niche overlap between the two age categories. During eight intervals over a two-year period, we collected samples of whole blood and scales at a site in southern Brazil. Isotopic ratios of carbon and nitrogen did not differ between juveniles and adults for either tissue type, nor did mean trophic positions of juveniles and adults differ. The percent contribution of prey categories to snake biomass differed to a limited extent between the two years, with Hylidae being the most important anuran group assimilated during the first year and Leptodactylidae during the second year, for both ages. The isotopic niche occupied by adult snakes was slightly larger than that of juveniles when the analysis was based on data from whole blood samples, as expected because snakes are gape-limited. We found a reverse pattern when the analysis was based on scales, which may indicate that adult snakes have a smaller niche over the long term as they become selective foragers in certain prey. Isotopic overlap between juveniles and adults occurred during the two years, but it was bigger during the second year. We infer that, despite differences in gape size, juvenile and adult snakes in the study area exploit similar prey, with the degree of trophic similarity varying interannually.
author list (cited authors)
Rebelato, M. M., Winemiller, K. O., Durso, A. M., Tozetti, A. M., de Camargo, P. B., & Verrastro, L.