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Reproductive plasticity as an advantage of snakes during island invasion

October 13, 2021

Most invasive species are not studied during their initial colonization of ecosystems to which they were recently introduced. Rather, research is typically performed after invasive species are well established and causing harm to the native biodiversity. Thus, novel adaptations of invasive species during their initial invasions are rarely identified. The California kingsnake (Lampropeltis californiae) is an invasive species in the Canary Islands that originated via escape or release from captive populations. Previous studies have demonstrated several morphological differences between the native California population and the invasive populations on Gran Canaria Island, particularly in regard to color pattern and body mass. In this study, we assessed the reproductive condition of 1,538 museum specimens of L. californiae from the native range, and 668 from Gran Canaria. Our results show that 57.1% of female L. californiae from Gran Canaria were gravid versus 13.4% of those from California. Moreover, average follicle size and clutch size were both greater in the invasive range (20.3 and 65%). In addition, there was a marked phenological shift in the invasive populations, among which follicles appeared 60 days sooner than in the native range. These differences can possibly be attributed to a larger body mass in the invasive populations, a lack of interspecific competition, origination from the pet trade, increased selection for large clutch sizes, and/or increased climate suitability in the invaded habitats. Overall, these reproductive and phenological attributes appear to constitute advantages for L. californiae during the invasion of this newly encountered ecosystem. The phenomenon of reproductive plasticity might generally be advantageous for rapid irruption of snakes on islands.

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