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Title

Is Bocourt’s Terrific Skink Really So Terrific? Trophic Myth and Reality

AuthorsCaut, Stéphane ; Magaly, Holden; Jowers, Michael J.; Boistel, Renaud; Ineich, Ivan
Issue Date2013
PublisherPublic Library of Science
CitationPLoS ONE, 8(10): e76638 (2013)
AbstractMany scientists argue that our planet is undergoing a mass extinction event that is largely due to human influences. In this context, rediscoveries of species presumed to be extinct are encouraging and of great potential interest. During a 2003 expedition to New Caledonia, Bocourt’s terrific skink, Phoboscincus bocourti, was unexpectedly rediscovered on a small islet by one of us. This skink species had been described from a single specimen collected around 1872 in New Caledonia. Since that time, however, no data on the species’ biology, trophic interactions, or role in the ecosystem have been collected, making it difficult to follow the established conservation plan. In this study, we used a multidisciplinary approach involving natural history, anatomy, morphology, genetics, and stable isotopes to elucidate the ecology of Bocourt’s terrific skink. Over the course of three different expeditions to the islet (total of 55 days across 2005 and 2012), we captured 4 individuals and observed another 4 individuals. The species’ dentition and trophic ecology suggest that it is a top predator in its ecosystem and a major consumer of small terrestrial reptiles. Its high degree of genetic relatedness to another New Caledonian skink, which has a broad distribution, suggests that P. bocourti underwent genetic isolation at a geographical remote location, where dispersal or colonization was highly improbable. Moreover, the lack of genetic variation among the four individuals we captured may imply that a unique lineage, characterized by few inter-island exchanges, exists on the islet. Bocourt’s terrific skink may be the largest terrestrial squamate predator alive in New Caledonia today. As a result, it is likely vulnerable to habitat modifications and especially the invasive rodents found on this islet. Further information is necessary to assess the conservation plans and practices in place as no concrete changes have been made since the species’ rediscovery almost 10 years ago.
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0078638
URIhttp://hdl.handle.net/10261/86466
DOI10.1371/journal.pone.0078638
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