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The dynamics of predators in a novel world

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Non-native species are spreading rapidly throughout the planet. These species can have widespread impacts on biodiversity, particularly in situations where non-native species have novel traits that are unfamiliar to native species. Yet impacts of novel prey on the behavior, ecology, and evolution of predators remain poorly known. I will discuss long-term research on the dynamics of an endangered predator, the snail kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis), across its North American range with the invasion of a novel prey, the island apple snail (Pomacea maculata), a much larger congener of the kite’s native prey that is considered one of the world’s ‘top 100 worst invaders’. This invasion has led to sweeping, rapid changes in the behavior, ecology, and evolution of this predator. This invasive prey is challenging to consume for kites and yet it occurs in high densities in a landscape where native prey is rare. Kites have responded by increasing reproductive effort, including striking changes in breeding phenology, where breeding season length is now 18 weeks longer than prior to invasion. Both juvenile and adult survival have increased, and social behavior of this semi-colonial species has been rewired. Snail kite morphology has changed rapidly, where beak sizes have increased over time, which is driven by viability and sexual selection, as well as phenotypic plasticity. Ultimately, this invasion has saved the snail kite from imminent extinction in the short term, yet the future remains highly uncertain. These results provide insight on the remarkable consequences of novel species for long-lived predators.

This talk is part of the Behaviour, Ecology & Evolution Seminar Series series.

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