Does rock disturbance by superb lyrebirds (Menura novaehollandiae) influence habitat selection by juvenile snakes?

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Journal Article
Austral Ecology, 2006, 31 (1), pp. 58 - 67
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Vertebrates that destroy or disturb habitats used by other animals may influence habitat selection by sympatric taxa. In south-east Australian forests, superb lyrebirds (Menura novaehollandiae) displace soil, leaf litter and rocks during their daily foraging activities. We investigated whether superb lyrebirds disturb small sandstone rocks that endangered broad-headed snakes Hoplocephalus bungaroides and common small-eyed snakes Cryptophis nigrescens use as diurnal thermoregulatory sites. To estimate the frequency of lyrebird rock disturbance, and to assess whether lyrebirds also attack small snakes, we placed 900 plasticine snake replicas under stones on rock and soil substrates along transects on three sandstone plateaux. Because juvenile snakes must select retreat sites that simultaneously allow them to thermoregulate and minimize predation risk, we quantified the thermal environments underneath stones on rock and soil substrates. During the 6-week experiment, animals disturbed rocks on soil substrates twice as often (16.9%) as rocks lying on rock substrates (8.2%). Disturbed rocks were significantly smaller and lighter than undisturbed rocks on both substrates. Lyrebirds were the major agents of disturbance, and attacked 40% of snake models under disturbed rocks. Rocks on soil substrates conferred the greatest thermal benefits to snakes, but both species of snake avoided these microhabitats in the field. Instead, juvenile snakes selected rocks on rock substrates, and sheltered under stones that were too heavy for superb lyrebirds to disturb. By disturbing rocks over millennia, superb lyrebirds not only have shaped the physical landscape, but also may have exerted strong selection on habitat selection by sympatric snakes. © 2006 Ecological Society of Australia.
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