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Locally abundant, endangered Mariana swiftlets impact the abundance, behavior, and body condition of an invasive predator

March 8, 2021

Invasive predators are known to have negative consumptive and non-consumptive effects on native species, but few examples show how the abundance of native prey may influence an established invasive predator. We compared invasive brown treesnakes (Boiga irregularis; BTS) found in caves occupied by endangered Mariana swiftlets (Aerodramus bartschi) to snakes found in nearby forests and caves without birds to quantify how the abundance of native avian prey impacts BTS abundance and behavior on Guam. From 2011 to 2017 we removed 151 BTS in caves occupied by swiftlets and never observed BTS in caves without birds. Notable locations included snakes foraging near swiftlets and in holes that allowed cave access and escape from capture. Of 43 BTS with gut contents, 27 (63%) contained swiftlets. BTS in swiftlet-occupied caves had greater fat mass compared to forests, indicating access to swiftlets may increase body condition and promote reproduction. Number of ovarian follicles was significantly greater in female snakes from swiftlet-occupied caves compared to those from ravine, but not limestone forests; evidence of male BTS being more capable of reproduction was limited (i.e., fewer non-discernible but not significantly larger testes in snakes from caves). Assuming other limiting factors are considered, altering the functional response of predators through the modification of caves or interdiction lures to exclude or hinder the largest BTS could bolster swiftlet populations by increasing nesting refugia in currently-occupied caves and facilitate recolonization of historical caves.