Environmental and vegetation variables have a greater influence than habitat fragmentation in structuring lizard communities in remnant urban bushland
Jellinek, S and Driscoll, DA and Kirkpatrick, JB, Environmental and vegetation variables have a greater influence than habitat fragmentation in structuring lizard communities in remnant urban bushland, Austral Ecology, 29, (3) pp. 294-304. ISSN 1442-9985 (2004) [Refereed Article]
The expansion of urban areas and adjacent farming land into natural landscapes modifies habitats and produces small isolated pockets of native vegetation. This fragmentation of the natural habitat subdivides animal communities, reduces population sizes and increases vulnerability to extinction. In this paper we investigate whether fragmentation decreases lizard species richness, composition, overall abundance and abundance at the species level. Urban remnants consisting of five small (< 10 ha) and four large (> 10 ha) fragments of natural bushland were paired with continuous bushland areas located near Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. These remnants were surveyed six times, using pitfall traps, from November 2001 to March 2002. Lizard species richness and abundance were not significantly influenced by habitat fragmentation or fragment size. Egernia whitii was the only lizard species significantly influenced by fragment size, and was only present in large fragments and continuous bush. Vegetation type and structure as well as environmental variables (geology and aspect) influenced the structure of reptile communities. Lizard species that were able to use a number of different habitat types were found to persist at most sites, irrespective of fragment size. Edge environment did not significantly influence lizard species richness or abundance in remnant areas. Lizard species richness was significantly lower in sites that had a high ratio of exotic to native plant species. Therefore, if remnants continue to be invaded by exotic plants, lizard species that require native plant communities will become increasingly vulnerable to local extinction. Our results suggest that lizard species requiring specialized habitats, such as E. whitii, may persist in large urban remnants rather than small urban remnants because large reserves are more likely to encompass rare habitats, such as rocky outcrops. Habitat heterogeneity, rather than size, may be the key to their persistence.