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Responses of three sympatric snake species to tropical seasonality in northern Australia

  • Gregory P. Brown (a1), Richard Shine (a1) and Thomas Madsen (a1)


In the Australian wet–dry tropics, temperatures are high year-round but rainfall is concentrated in a 4-mo wet season. Regular nightly surveys in the Fogg Dam Nature Reserve provided data on temporal (monthly, seasonal) variation in biological attributes of three snake species: water pythons (Liasis fuscus, Pythonidae), keelbacks (Tropidonophis mairii, Colubridae) and slatey-grey snakes (Stegonotus cucullatus, Colubridae). Adults of all three taxa were encountered more frequently during the dry season than the wet season, whereas juveniles were more commonly encountered in the wet season. The sex ratio among adult snakes also shifted seasonally, but in different ways in different species. These sex-ratio shifts probably reflect reproductive activity (mate-searching by males, oviposition migrations by females) and were accompanied by increased encounter rates. Feeding rates and body condition of keelbacks (a frog specialist) were highest during the wet season when frogs were most abundant. Rats migrated away from Fogg Dam during the wet season, and most pythons (rat specialists) left this area to follow their prey. The pythons that remained at Fogg Dam exhibited low feeding rates and poor body condition. Slatey-grey snakes (a generalist predator) showed less seasonal variation in feeding rates or body condition. Our data show that tropical seasonality induces strong fluctuations in many attributes of snake populations, and that patterns of response differ both among and within species.


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