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The influence of disturbed habitat on the spatial ecology of Argentine black and white tegu (Tupinambis merianae), a recent invader in the Everglades ecosystem (Florida, USA)

January 30, 2015

The threat of invasive species is often intensified in disturbed habitat. To optimize control programs, it is necessary to understand how degraded habitat influences the behavior of invasive species. We conducted a radio telemetry study to characterize movement and habitat use of introduced male Argentine black and white tegus (Tupinambis merianae) in the Everglades of southern Florida from May to August 2012 at the core and periphery of the introduced range. Tegus at the periphery moved farther per day (mean 131.7 ± 11.6 m, n = 6) compared to tegus at the core (mean 50.3 ± 12.4 m, n = 6). However, activity ranges were not significantly smaller in the core (mean 19.4 ± 8.4 ha, n = 6) compared to periphery (mean 29.1 ± 5.2 ha, n = 6). Peripheral activity ranges were more linear due to activity being largely restricted to levee habitat surrounded by open water or marsh. Tegus were located in shrub or tree habitat (mean 96%) more often than expected based on random locations (mean 58%), and the percent cover of trees and shrubs was higher in activity ranges (mean 61%) than the general study area (17%). Our study highlighted the ability of tegus to spread across the Florida landscape, especially in linear disturbed habitats where increased movement occurred and in areas of altered hydrology where movement is not restricted by water.