Surviving in a semi-marine habitat: Dietary salt exposure and salt secretion of a New Zealand intertidal skink

J. Janssen*, A.M. Towns, M. Duxbury, I.M.A. Heitkonig

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Species that inhabit marine and intertidal ecosystems face osmoregulatory challenges, risking dehydration and increased ion concentrations in the body. Lizards need to either tolerate or regulate these increased ion concentrations. In this study, we aim to understand how Suter's skink (Oligosoma suteri), an intertidal skink restricted to shoreline habitats, is able to cope with the physiological stress of living in an extreme salt environment. We determined the diet, prey species' salt content, and nasal and cloacal salt excretion on Rangitoto and Motutapu Islands in northern New Zealand, where the skinks have contrasting access to terrestrial invertebrates. Analysis of stable isotopes suggests inter- and intra-population variability in Suter's skink diets. Intertidal invertebrates under washed up seaweed appear to compose a major part of the diet of the Rangitoto population, while the Motutapu population showed evidence for a mixed diet of terrestrial and intertidal invertebrates. Sodium content of prey species decreased with an increasing distance from the seawater. Field secretion of cations through nasal glands consisted primarily of Na+, which is consistent with other marine and intertidal species. Sodium was also the primary cation in urine. In contrast, fecal cations consisted primarily of K+. This first study into the salt secretion of an intertidal skink species provides evidence of Suter's skink's plasticity in secreting excess ions through nasal salt glands. This likely enables it to deal with the challenges of living in a semi-marine habitat.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-29
JournalComparative Biochemistry and Physiology. A, Molecular and Integrative Physiology
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Invertebrates
  • Physiology
  • Plasticity
  • Potassium
  • Regulation
  • Salt
  • Sodium
  • Stable isotopes
  • Stress
  • Suter's skink


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