Invasive rodents, an overlooked threat for skinks in a tropical island hotspot of biodiversity
- Aix Marseille Univ, Univ Avignon, CNRS, IRD, IMBE, Centre IRD Nouméa - BP A5, 98848 Nouméa Cedex, New Caledonia
- Institut Agronomique Néo-Calédonien (IAC), “Diversités biologique et fonctionnelle des écosystèmes terrestres”, BP 73, 98890 Païta, New Caledonia
Squamata are one of the most threatened groups among island vertebrates, facing high pressure from exotic species. However, the contribution of small terrestrial reptiles in invasive rodents’ diet remains poorly investigated, partly because of the lack of tools for accurately identifying chewed prey fragments in gut contents. The New Caledonia archipelago (South Pacific) hosts an exceptional terrestrial squamata fauna (105 species, 91.6% endemic) that are faced with many invasive species (rodents, feral cats, feral pigs, ants) and strong human pressures. Our study aimed to evaluate the frequency of occurrence of endemic skink remains by gut content analysis of two species of invasive rodents. Four rodent trapping sessions were implemented at two ultramafic sites and for two distinct habitats (closed canopy forest and open shrubland habitat). A total of 284 rats were trapped from two species (the ship rat Rattus rattus and the Pacific rat R. exulans) over 1200 trap nights. Combined analysis of stomach and caecum contents provided far more information than traditional stomach analysis alone. Analyses showed that 15.9% of rat samples included remains of at least 12 different skink species out of the 23 present. Six species are classified as threatened by the IUCN, the most endangered being Marmorosphax taom (CR) and Kanakysaurus viviparus (EN). This study provides new prospects for the assessment of invasive rodent impacts and new insights into the respective impacts of two sympatric invasive rodent species on native skinks.