Agonistic behavioural asymmetry in two species of montane lizard that exhibit elevational replacement

Anna F. Senior, David G. Chapple, Zak S. Atkins, Nick Clemann, Michael G. Gardner, Geoffrey M. While, Bob B.M. Wong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Context: In montane systems, closely related species tend to segregate spatially along elevational gradients. The role of biotic interactions, relative to species physiological requirements, in maintaining these distribution patterns is an important question in spatial ecology. Theory suggests that the role of interspecific competition can be significant in the maintenance of elevation replacement distributions. Despite this, there has been limited work investigating factors beyond thermophysiology in determining ranges in temperate montane species. Objectives and methods: We investigated agonistic (i.e. aggressive) behaviour in response to a simulated intruder (conspecific versus heterospecific 3D printed models) in two sister species of temperate montane lizard, Liopholis guthega and L. montana, from south-eastern Australia. The two species have similar thermal tolerances at an area of distributional overlap between 1600 and 1700 m above sea level, above which L. montana is replaced by the high elevation specialist L. guthega. Results: We found that response to intruder stimuli differed between the two species, with the high elevation L. guthega actively biting both conspecific and heterospecific models, whereas the lower elevation L. montana, never attacked either model type. Our findings provide evidence of asymmetric agonistic response in the two montane reptile species. Conclusions: These findings have important implications for understanding how biological interactions and behaviour, in addition to thermo-physiological data, might mediate landscape scale distribution patterns both now and as environments change in the future. More broadly, our results are not consistent with the widespread idea that low elevation species will inevitably ‘push’ higher elevation species out, as global warming erodes species’ thermal envelopes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)863-876
Number of pages14
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • Alpine zone
  • Australia
  • Behaviour
  • Climate change
  • Reptile
  • Skink


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