Skills or strength-how tortoises cope with dense vegetation?
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Dense vegetation cover undoubtedly offers certain advantages for small and slow-moving animals, but its disadvantages concerning some aspects of spatial ecology (e.g. movements) were neglected in previous studies. Tortoises could get stuck in vegetation by protuberant part of the shell and thus succumb to overheating, dehydration or predators. To examine how vegetation cover shapes behavioural responses of `trapped' tortoises, we tested adults of six populations from habitats with contrasting vegetation cover. The tortoises were fitted with a non-stretchable rope, representing a piece of vegetation, stuck on the protruding front part of the plastron. Results suggested the existence of two distinct releasing techniques. First, and only successful in this study, is frequent changing of the movement direction, with a minimal pulling force, until the obstacle detached. The other involved the maximal pulling force aimed at ripping out the constraint. Tortoises from shrub habitats had more releasing success, used less pulling force and needed shorter time period to release, contrary to tortoises from herbaceous habitats. Although sexes showed similar releasing success, females obtained lower number of direction changes and higher yanking force compared to males, suggesting slightly different liberating strategies between the sexes. For immobilized tortoises without suitable shelter from overheating and dehydration, appropriate behavioural response could be vital, especially during drought years, due to increased physiological stresses. Variability of behavioural patterns among tortoise populations, described in this study, could have an adaptive significance.