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Home » Archive » 2019 » Biology Session

Biology session

Prey traits predict predators' choice: diet of the endangered Greek Meadow Viper (Vipera graeca)
Rák Gergő Attila I. évfolyam
University of Veterinary Medicine Budapest, Department of Ecology
Supervisors: Edvárd Mizsei, Szabolcs Lengyel, Krisztián Szabó

Abstract:

High‐quality information on predator–prey relationships is fundamental in understanding food webs, community assembly and ecosystem functioning. Our research concentrates on the relationship between prey traits and prey selection by the Greek Meadow Viper (Vipera graeca), a little‐known, endangered snake of alpine grasslands in the Pindos Mountains of the Balkan Peninsula. Here, we develop a novel analytical approach based on generalized linear mixed-effects models (GLMM) to test the importance of prey availability and to identify the set of prey traits that best explain the occurrence and number of prey in the predator's diet. We demonstrate the approach by using an extensive dataset on prey availability, prey traits and gut content collected in all known populations of Vipera graeca. We show that V. graeca is a unique, venomous snake specialized on bush‐crickets and grasshoppers (Orthoptera). Prey selection GLMMs showed that the ideal prey of V. graeca is abundant, large‐bodied, has poor escape abilities (flightless, slow-moving and bad jumper) and prefers loose grasslands (as opposed to bare ground/ rock or closed sward). Vipers restrict their feeding to periods of high Orthoptera abundance in the late summer and need to reach a certain body size to become able to catch large‐sized prey. This study shows the importance of prey traits in prey selection by a specialist predator. It also shows that the trophic niche of the V. graeca is even narrower than was thought before, which likely increases the vulnerability of this cold-adapted snake to extinction.



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