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Abstract

Previous studies have attempted to correlate stable isotope signatures of tissues with the nutritional condition of birds, mammals, fishes, and invertebrates. Unfortunately, very little is known about the relationship between food limitation and the isotopic composition of reptiles. We examined the effects that starvation has on δ13C and δ15N signatures in the tissues (excreta, carcass, scales, and claws) of six, distantly related squamate reptiles (gaboon vipers, Bitisgabonica; ball pythons, Pythonregius; ratsnakes, Elapheobsoleta; boa constrictors, Boaconstrictor; western diamondback rattlesnakes, Crotalusatrox, and savannah monitor lizards, Varanusexanthematicus). Analyses revealed that the isotopic composition of reptile carcasses did not change significantly in response to bouts of starvation lasting up to 168 days. In contrast, the isotopic signatures of reptile excreta became significantly enriched in 15N and depleted in 13C during starvation. The isotopic signatures of reptile scales and lizard claws were less indicative of starvation time than those of excreta. We discuss the physiological mechanisms that might be responsible for the starvation-induced changes in 13C and 15N signatures in the excreta, and present a mixing model to describe the shift in excreted nitrogen source pools (i.e. from a labile source pool to a nonlabile source pool) that apparently occurs during starvation in these animals. The results of this study suggest that naturally occurring stable isotopes might ultimately have some utility for characterizing nitrogen and carbon stress among free-living reptiles. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.