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Survival of lizard eggs varies with microhabitat in the presence of an invertebrate nest predator

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The risk of nest depredation is influenced by numerous factors, including predator density, environmental conditions of the nesting landscape, and nesting behaviors of mothers. Many reptiles choose nest microhabitats that facilitate embryonic development, but little is known about how the risk of nest depredation in different habitats influences egg survival and nesting behavior. To address this knowledge gap, we quantified predator–prey relationships between square-back marsh crabs (Armases cinereum) and eggs of the brown anole lizard (Anolis sagrei). Our experiments aimed to answer the following questions: (1) are marsh crabs a predator of brown anole eggs, (2) does egg depredation differ among microhabitat types, and (3) how does crab density affect egg survival? We placed viable eggs in three different microhabitats used by nesting females (open area, palm frond, leaf litter), and manipulated the placement of the eggs as either buried or not buried. We also manipulated crab density in a field experiment. Our experiments confirmed square-back marsh crabs as egg predators, and eggs in the leaf litter or eggs buried were the least likely to be depredated. Additionally, eggs in leaf litter and under palm fronds escaped depredation longer than those in the open. Increased crab density also raised the risk of depredation for eggs placed under palm fronds or in open habitats. These results suggest that selection of nest sites by female brown anoles can influence offspring survival in the presence of marsh crabs, and the importance of nest site microhabitat choice may vary with predator density.

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The dataset generated during this study is available on the supplementary information files.


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We thank J. Hall, J. Pruett, and S. Tiatragul for assistance in the lab and field. Thanks to the Warner and Wolak labs for comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Thanks to A. Wilson who made this Research Experience for Undergraduates Program possible. This study was supported by an NSF grant (DBI-1658694) and the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station, and the Hatch program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture. This is publication #915 of the Auburn University Museum of Natural History.

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DW originally formulated the idea for this study, and all authors designed and performed the experiment. ADS and AF analyzed the data. The first draft of the manuscript was written by ADS and all authors contributed to subsequent versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Daniel A. Warner.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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This research followed the protocols approved by the Auburn University Animal Care and Use Committee (Protocol #: 2017–3027), and the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve.

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DeSana, A., Fargevieille, A. & Warner, D.A. Survival of lizard eggs varies with microhabitat in the presence of an invertebrate nest predator. Evol Ecol 34, 483–499 (2020).

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