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Community-wide character displacement in New Zealand skinks


*K. C. Burns, School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand.


Aim  To test for community-wide character displacement in New Zealand skinks.

Location  Four small islands in the New Zealand archipelago.

Methods  (1) We conducted a field experiment on a single island to evaluate whether prey size selection is correlated with lizard body size. We pitfall trapped 69 skinks from three species, measured several aspects of their morphology and presented each animal with a variety of different-sized prey in a food choice experiment. (2) We tested whether the morphological characteristics associated with prey size selection were evenly partitioned in four island skink communities using null models.

Results  Prey size selection was associated with skink morphology; larger skinks consumed larger prey. Null model analyses showed support for evenly displaced body sizes on one island, weak support on one island and no support on two islands.

Main conclusions  Results showed mixed support for community-wide character displacement in New Zealand skinks. Differences in body sizes appear to reflect the use of different-sized prey. Even differentiation in body sizes on one island suggests that species coexistence is facilitated by interspecific differences in prey size selection. However, little support was found on other islands, suggesting that other factors, such as interspecific differences in habitat selection and/or diurnal activity patterns, may interact with differences in prey size selection to promote coexistence among New Zealand skinks.