Conditional alternative movement tactics in male crocodiles

Kaitlin E. Barham, Cameron J. Baker, Craig E. Franklin, Hamish A. Campbell, Celine H. Frére, Terri R. Irwin, Ross G. Dwyer

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Abstract: In species where conflict is costly, individuals adopt alternative movement tactics to minimise the risk of competitive interactions. Dominant males often maintain defined territories, while less competitive males may be forced to adopt alternative tactics to maximise fitness and reduce conflict. However, the extent to which males switch tactics according to current social or physiological status is poorly understood. Using implanted acoustic tags and a fixed array of tracking receivers, we investigated how the behaviour of 78 male estuarine crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) shifted over an 11-year period in relation to ontogeny, body condition, and the extent of physical injuries. We discovered that male crocodiles sorted into three common movement classes, with 51% of males maintaining the same movement class across consecutive years (max = 9 years). Males > 4 m in total length maintained confined territories both within and across years and had the greatest extent of injuries and the highest condition score, indicative of territory holders. In contrast, smaller males sorted into high movement roamer or low movement site-philopatric tactics, where the tactic an individual adopted was less stable between years and did not correlate with condition or external injuries. Our study reveals the socio-biological mechanisms by which estuarine crocodiles coexist within a restricted habitat. Significance statement: Identifying individual-level differences in movement helps us predict which individuals are more likely to be involved in human-wildlife interactions. However, studying long-term shifts in movement is challenging, as large datasets of co-occurring individuals tracked in their natural environment over multiple years are required. We tracked a population of 78 male estuarine crocodiles (1030–4687 mm total length) in a shared environment over 11 years and assessed how eight movement traits were linked to body size and physical condition. At the population level, males sorted into different movement tactics according to ontogeny, with large territorial males having better body condition yet a greater incidence of injury. However, 49% of males showed variability across years, suggesting that tactics were conditional relative to environmental variability and a male’s own status. Our study provides insights into the mechanisms and costs of movement tactics in wild crocodile populations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number31
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023


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