The impact of heavy grazing on burrow choice in the pygmy bluetongue lizard, Tiliqua adelaidensis

Melissa Pettigrew, Christopher Bull

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    13 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Context Grazing pressure has directly altered and indirectly influenced natural ecosystems worldwide, and has affected and displaced many native species. The endangered pygmy bluetongue lizard Tiliqua adelaidensis is endemic to the mid-north of South Australia. It inhabits remnant native grasslands where it is reliant on the presence of natural spider burrows constructed by lycosid and mygalomorph spiders as refuge sites. These lizards spend the majority of the day associated with their burrow either in the burrow itself or basking at its entrance. The remnant native grasslands of South Australia have endured 200 years of agricultural changes and the introduction of domestic stock has meant that grazing pressure has substantially increased. The vegetation around a burrow is considered to be important in providing shelter for the lizard. However, too much vegetation may reduce basking opportunities and visibility of prey. Stock grazing has been maintained on the majority of sites that contain pygmy bluetongue populations and it is presumed that the lizards can tolerate some form of grazing. However, the level of grazing intensity directly influences the vegetation structure that surrounds the lizard burrows. Aims We aimed to investigate the consequences of severe grazing pressure on the choice of burrows by lizards, and on their burrow related behaviour. Methods We simulated heavy grazing pressure by manually removing aboveground vegetation in the field in replicated quadrats that contained artificial burrows, and by providing bare substrate in half of experimental enclosures in the laboratory. Key results In the field, lizards only occupied the artificial burrows in control quadrats, where vegetation had been left intact. In the laboratory, lizards that occupied both burrows basked for longer at the burrow entrance where vegetation was present. Conclusions Heavy grazing management that results in the majority of vegetation being removed could have a negative impact on pygmy bluetongue lizard recruitment and sustainability. Implications Grazing regimes should be carefully monitored to consider the needs of species that rely heavily on microhabitat structure for their persistence. For the endangered pygmy bluetongue lizard, heavy grazing should be avoided to promote amounts of vegetation suitable to sustain viable populations.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)299-306
    Number of pages8
    JournalWildlife Research
    Volume38
    Issue number4
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2011

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