Ecological Research

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 649–655 | Cite as

Does interspecific competition with a stronger competitor explain the rarity of an endangered snake on a Mediterranean island?

  • Luca Luiselli
  • Massimo Capula
  • Lorenzo Rugiero
  • Daniele Salvi
  • Godfrey C. Akani
Original Article


Interspecific competition has been demonstrated to be an important shaping force for snake communities worldwide, but relatively few studies have investigated its occurrence and extent with island assemblages of snakes. In Sardinia (Mediterranean Sea), two species of whip snakes (Colubridae) co-occur, one of them being abundant and widespread (Hierophis viridiflavus) and the other being localized and critically endangered (Hemorrhois hippocrepis). A previous hypothesis suggested that the latter species would be confined to suboptimal habitats by the former species, which is a stronger competitor for food. As a consequence, He. hippocrepis would not only be rare but would also be smaller in body size in Sardinia than in other regions of its range where Hi. viridiflavus does not occur. In 1999–2010, we studied habitat selection, food habits, and body sizes of these two snakes in sympatric populations, applying a suite of statistical tools including null models and Monte Carlo simulations. We observed that dietary habits were different between species (compared to Hi. viridiflavus, He. hippocrepis more frequently preyed upon rodents and less frequently on lizards, and within rodent prey, more frequently upon Rattus and less frequently upon Mus), but not in a way compatible with competitively induced trophic niche partitioning. The two species were similar in terms of prey size and predator-size–prey-size relationships. They also differed in habitat selection (maquis was the preferred habitat for both, but Hi. viridiflavus was found significantly more often than He. hippocrepis in grasslands, cultivations, and artificial pinewoods) but again in a non-competitively directed way. In addition, there was no evidence for the hypothesis that He. hippocrepis was confined to suboptimal habitats. Body sizes were similar between species (with males being significantly larger than females), and Sardinian He. hippocrepis were not smaller than conspecifics inhabiting regions without Hi. viridiflavus. Overall, our study showed that the two species differed in some aspects of their ecology, but these differences could not be due to competitive interactions. The conservation implications of these results are also discussed.


Serpentes Niche partitioning Null models Mediterranean islands Whip snakes 


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Copyright information

© The Ecological Society of Japan 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Luca Luiselli
    • 1
  • Massimo Capula
    • 2
  • Lorenzo Rugiero
    • 1
  • Daniele Salvi
    • 3
  • Godfrey C. Akani
    • 4
  1. 1.Centre of Environmental Studies DemetraRomeItaly
  2. 2.Herpetological SectionMuseo Civico di ZoologiaRomeItaly
  3. 3.Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos (CIBIO)VairãoPortugal
  4. 4.Department of Applied and Environmental BiologyRivers State University of Science and TechnologyPort HarcourtNigeria

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