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Survival of an Extinct in the Wild skink from Christmas Island is reduced by an invasive centipede: implications for future reintroductions

Abstract

The blue-tailed skink (Cryptoblepharus egeriae) is endemic to Christmas Island but underwent rapid population declines in the 1990s and 2000s and was listed as Extinct in the Wild in 2017. As invasive giant centipedes (Scolependra subspinipes) were implicated as a cause of a failed reintroduction of captive bred skinks into a fenced enclosure, we undertook a mesocosm experiment to investigate if skink survival and body condition was negatively affected by the presence and density of S. subspinipes. In addition, we used DNA barcoding to determine if wild centipedes consume other reptile species on Christmas Island. In the mesocosm experiments, survival of skinks was reduced by 30% and 44% at low and high centipede densities respectively over 12 weeks, and skink body condition also declined significantly over this period. DNA barcoding confirmed that skinks that were lost during the mesocosm experiment had been consumed by centipedes. Further, we detected DNA of two invasive reptiles (the common wolf snake Lycodon capucinus and the Asian House gecko Hemidactylus frenatus) in the stomachs of wild-caught centipedes, suggesting that centipedes are a generalist predator of reptiles in this island ecosystem. Based on these results, we recommend that attempts to reintroduce C. egeriae to Christmas Island should include the control of centipedes to increase the likelihood of success.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the staff from Parks Australia; particularly Kent Retallick, Brendan Tiernan and Samantha Flakus who provided the skinks and the exclosures with which to undertake our experiment. We also thank Karrie Rose for assistance with animal ethics approval, Hamish Burnett, Harry Moore and Felicity Evans for fieldwork support, Joel Moffatt and Kristen Schubert for assistance with analysis of centipede gut-contents, Harold Cogger for his input into project design, and Alana De laive for providing the blue-tailed skink artwork.

Funding

This study recieved support from the Australian Government's National Environmental Science Program through the Threatened Species Recovery Hub and the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment. Comments from the two reviewers also greatly improved this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jon-Paul Emery.

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The research was approved by the Taronga Conservation Society Australia: AEC protocol 4b/12/17 and by Parks Australia (permit number CINP_2017_07).

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Supplementary file1 (DOCX 679 kb) Data and associated r scripts used in the analyses of this manuscript can be found here: https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.13120250.v1

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Emery, JP., Valentine, L.E., Hitchen, Y. et al. Survival of an Extinct in the Wild skink from Christmas Island is reduced by an invasive centipede: implications for future reintroductions. Biol Invasions 23, 581–592 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-020-02386-3

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Keywords

  • Christmas Island
  • Blue-tailed skink
  • Scolependra subspinipes
  • Survival
  • Invasive species
  • Mesocosm