Safe caves and dangerous forests? Predation risk may contribute to salamander colonization of subterranean habitats
Recent studies suggest that many organisms actively colonize the subterranean environment to avoid climatic stress, exploit new ecological opportunities and reduce competition and predation. Terrestrial salamanders are known to colonize the more stable subterranean habitats mainly to escape external climatic extremes, while the role of predation avoidance remains untested. To better understand the importance of predation, we used clay models of the cave salamander Speleomantes strinatii to compare the predation occurring in woodland and subterranean habitats. Models were positioned in three forests and in three caves in NW Italy. One-hundred eighty-four models were retrieved from the field and 59 (32%) were attacked by predators. Models were attacked on their head more often than expected by chance and, therefore, were perceived by predators as real prey items. In the woodlands, clay models showed a four-time higher probability of being attacked in comparison to caves, suggesting a different level of potential predation risk in these surface habitats. These findings are one of the first experimental evidences that, in terrestrial ecosystems, predation avoidance may contribute to the salamander underground colonization process.
KeywordsCave Clay model Colonization Predation avoidance Underground habitat
S.S. was partially funded by FRA 2015; A.C. is funded by a doctoral fellowship. We are grateful to four anonymous Reviewers for their constructive comments.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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