A to-scale representation of the typical skink species found in the Kimberley region of Western Australia

Increasing dietary breadth through allometry: bite forces in sympatric Australian skinks

Domenic Corvasce D'Amore, David Meadows, Simon Clulow, Jeremiah Sean Doody, David Rhind, Colin McHenry


Ecomechanical measures of performance such as bite force may function as an indirect measure of niche. This study proposes that allometric changes in performance may contribute to niche separation, especially in a group where the specific mechanism(s) remains unclear. We surveyed the bite force and morphology of 5 wild caught, sympatric skink species in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Skinks were collected from trapline fences, weighed, photographed, and maximum bite force was measured with a piezoresistive force sensor. Morphological metrics were derived from photographs of the dorsum. Normalized morphological traits indicate interspecific variability in form, particularly in forelimb length, which may be a result of habitat separation. Bite force showed strong, significantly positive, allometric scaling against most morphological traits. Tail length was the only morphological trait that scaled isometrically. Allometric changes in bite force may increase dietary breadth, allowing larger skinks to supplement their diet with larger, more durable prey. This study reveals that ecologically relevant traits may be explained by allometric differences coupled with size variation. Future work should focus on (1) an increase in sample size, (2) long-term measurement of diet selection, and (3) accessibility of prey items to our focal animals.

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