Arthropod predation of vertebrates structures trophic dynamics in island ecosystems

Luke R. Halpin, Daniel I. Terrington, Holly P. Jones, Rowan Mott, Wei Wen Wong, David C. Dow, Nicholas Carlile, Rohan H. Clarke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


On isolated islands, large arthropods can play an important functional role in ecosystem dynamics. On the Norfolk Islands group, South Pacific, we monitored the diet and foraging activity of an endemic chilopod, the Phillip Island centipede (Cormocephalus coynei), and used a stable isotope mixing model to estimate dietary proportions. Phillip Island centipede diet is represented by vertebrate animals (48%) and invertebrates (52%), with 30.5% consisting of squa-mates, including the Lord Howe Island skink (Oligosoma lichenigera) and Günther’s island gecko (Christinus guentheri); 7.9% consisting of black-winged petrel (Pterodroma nigripennis) nestlings; and 9.6% consisting of marine fishes scavenged from regurgitated seabird meals. Centipede predation was the principal source of petrel nestling mortality, with annual rates of predation varying between 11.1% and 19.6% of nestlings. This means that 2,109–3,724 black-winged petrel nestlings may be predated by centipedes annually. Petrels produce a single offspring per year; therefore, predation of nestlings by centipedes represents total breeding failure for a pair in a given year. Our work demonstrates that arthropods can play a leading role in influencing vertebrate reproductive output and modifying trophic structures and nutrient flow in island ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalThe American Naturalist
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • Centipedes
  • Insects
  • Reptiles
  • Seabirds
  • Stable isotopes
  • Trophic estimation

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