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Vollin, Marina

Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology

University of California Riverside

Riverside, California USA


Wright, Amber

School of Life Sciences

University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa

Mānoa, Hawaii USA


Higham, Timothy

Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology

University of California Riverside

Riverside, California USA


Caudal autotomy, or the voluntary severance of the tail, is a common anti-predator adaptation in lizards. However, there are a wide variety of associated costs following tail loss, including decreased locomotor and feeding performance, loss of energy stores, and altered social dynamics with conspecifics. As locomotor and clinging performance can predict habitat use in arboreal lizards, and position in the habitat is linked to available food resources, we predicted autotomized individuals would shift habitat position and food acquisition behavior to compensate for decreased performance. To examine the effect of autotomy on an arboreal lizard, we captured wild Gold Dust Day Geckos (Phelsuma laticauda) from a population on Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi and housed them in large outdoor experimental enclosures. After one month of acclimation we recaptured as many individuals as possible and autotomized half, alternating treatment by sex. We recorded habitat use, food acquisition, movement activity and interaction frequency data for two weeks after autotomy using a combination of standardized scans and focal animal observations. Nothing varied between the female autotomized and intact groups, but autotomized male day geckos perched lower in the environment, moved less, and fed less frequently on both insects and floral resources compared to tailed conspecifics. Based on our sex-dependent results, we theorize male day geckos may experience a loss in social status following autotomy, relegating them to marginal habitat with fewer available food sources. This highlights the need to examine behavior in natural (or semi- natural) situations rather than simply focusing on isolated biomechanical consequences of autotomy in a laboratory setting.

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