Does urbanization influence the diet of a large snake?
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Urbanization facilitates synanthropic species such as rodents, which benefit the diets of many predators in cities. We investigated how urbanization affects the feeding ecology of dugites Pseudonaja affinis, a common elapid snake in south-west Western Australia. We predicted that urban snakes: 1) more frequently contain prey and eat larger meals, 2) eat proportionally more non-native prey, 3) eat a lower diversity of prey species, and 4) are relatively heavier, than non-urban dugites. We analyzed the diet of 453 specimens obtained from the Western Australian Museum and opportunistic road-kill collections. Correcting for size, sex, season, and temporal biases, we tested whether location influenced diet for our 4 predictions. Body size was a strong predictor of diet (larger snakes had larger prey present, a greater number of prey items, and a greater diversity of prey). We identified potential collection biases: urban dugites were relatively smaller (snout-vent length) than non-urban specimens, and females were relatively lighter than males. Accounting for these effects, urban snakes were less likely to have prey present in their stomachs and were relatively lighter than non-urban snakes. Other urban-adapted carnivores appear to benefit from urbanization through increased food supplementation, but we found the opposite of this: urban dugites were less likely to contain a meal, and their meals were smaller, indicating they did not make greater use of synanthropic species than was evident for non-urban snakes. In contrast to other carnivores, snakes do not appear to fit a consistent directional pattern for size differences between urban and non-urban populations.
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