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The role of introduced species in shaping the distribution and abundance of island reptiles

Summary

Species interactions, as revealed by historical introductions of predators and competitors, affect population densities and sometimes result in extinctions of island reptiles. Mongoose introductions to Pacific islands have diminished the abundance of diurnal lizards and in some cases have led to extinctions. Through these population level effects, biogeographic patterns are produced, such as the reciprocal co-occurrence pattern seen with the tuatara and its predator, the Polynesian rat, and with the tropical gecko competitorsHemidactylus frenatus andLepidodactylus lugubris in urban habitats in the Pacific. Although competition has led to changes in abundance and has caused habitat displacement and reduced colonization success, extinctions of established reptile populations usually occur only as a result of predation.

These introductions, along with many manipulative experiments, demonstrate that present day competition and predation are potent forces shaping community structure and geographic distributions. The human introduction of species to islands can be viewed as an acceleration of the natural processes of range expansion and colonization. The immediate biotic consequences of these natural processes should be of the same intensity as those of the human introductions. Coevolution may subsequently act to ameliorate these interactions and reduce the dynamical response of one species to the other. The role played by coevolution in mediating interactions between competitors and predator and prey is highlighted by the susceptibility of predator-naive endemic species to introduced predators and the invalidity of species-poor communities.

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Case, T.J., Bolger, D.T. The role of introduced species in shaping the distribution and abundance of island reptiles. Evol Ecol 5, 272–290 (1991). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02214232

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Keywords

  • Introduced species
  • competition
  • predation
  • extinction
  • reptiles
  • island biogeography