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Spatial dynamics and burrow occupancy in a desert lizard floodplain specialist, Liopholis slateri

Treilibs, Claire E., Pavey, Chris R., Gardner, Michael G., Ansari, Mina H., Bull, C. Michael
Journal of arid environments 2019 v.167 pp. 8-17
DNA, breeding, burrows, dry environmental conditions, feces, floodplains, habitats, lizards, population size, rain, rivers, Australia
1. Desert river floodplains are resource rich but high-risk habitats. For surface-dwelling animals in these habitats, persistence is a trade-off between the advantages of relatively abundant food resources and the costs of episodic surface disturbances from infrequent but unpredictable rainfall events.2. In central Australia, there are few non-flying, terrestrial species that are specialised floodplain occupants, and their persistence strategies are not well understood.3. Using photographic mark-recapture and scat DNA, we observed a population of one such desert floodplain specialist, Slater's skink Liopholis slateri, over four years to understand how it persists in these disturbance-prone habitats.4. We found evidence of a highly mobile, but site stable population, with spatial clustering of burrows into local ‘neighbourhoods’. There were relatively low fluctuations in population size among years, with a second seasonal breeding event following heavy rain in January 2015. We observed both long-term residence of individuals and long-term use of burrows at the site.5. Frequent movements within and among neighbourhoods, and regular burrow construction, suggest a population capable of dispersal in the event of high intensity disturbance. Dispersing individuals and some neighbourhoods may act as recolonization sources in the event of a flood extirpating the core population.