, Volume 95, Issue 2, pp 246-256

Optimal foraging of a herbivorous lizard, the green iguana in a seasonal environment

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Abstract

Food selection was studied in free living green iguanas (Iguana iguana) throughout the year in a semiarid environment, Curaçao (Netherlands Antilles). Food intake was determined by direct observations and converted into biomass intake. Comparison between intake and biomass availability of the various food items revealed that the lizards were selective, and that changes in seasonal food availability led to periodic switching of food plants. The extent to which nutrient constraints determine iguana feeding ecology was investigated. Potential constraints were the requirements for water, digestible crude protein, and metabolizable energy. By using a linear programming model that incorporates characteristics of the food (chemical composition, energy content, item size) and requirements and constraints of the green iguanas (nutrient and energy requirements digestive tract capacity, feeding rate) it was possible to identify which factors determine food choice over the year. During the dry period, when the iguanas had no access to drinking water they consumed flowers to increase water intake, though the amount of flowers consumed was too low to cover maintenance requirements for either energy or protein. After the young leaf flush, following the early rains in May, the biomass increased, free surface water was available during showers, and the linear programming solutions indicate that food selection conformed to the protein maximization criterion. Reproduction in green iguanas shows an annual cycle, in which oviposition takes place at the end of the dry season, when intake is below maintenance levels. Females show a 8–10 month gap between acquisition of most of the protein required for egg synthesis and the act of laying. Thus, as in avian and mammalian herbivores, food availability during a period prior to the energy and protein demanding reproductive season of iguanas determines reproductive success.