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Philopatry and Homing Behavior of Sea Snakes (Laticauda colubrina) from Two Adjacent Islands in Fiji

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The spatial scale at which anthropogenic disturbance affects an animal population depends on the degree of philopatry and homing of individual organisms within that population. Even in highly vagile species, local populations may comprise ecologically separate entities if most animals display strong and consistent site attachment. We conducted a mark-recapture study on yellow-lipped sea kraits (  Laticauda colubrina) on two small Fijian islands separated by 5.3 km. These snakes forage over many kilometers in the ocean, but return to land to reproduce, slough, and digest their food. Recovery of marked snakes showed that the populations on these two islands were essentially separate. Relocated snakes returned “home” almost immediately after they were released. Growth rates and mean adult body sizes of male sea snakes also differed between the two islands. This high site fidelity means that activities such as resort development or commercial harvesting for the skin trade are likely to have intense localized effects rather than diffuse broad-scale effects on sea snake populations. Our results also call into question the feasibility of plans to reintroduce snake populations to areas where a species has been eliminated by overexploitation.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Biological Sciences A08, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia

Publication date: October 1, 2002

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