‘Neighbourhood’ size, dispersal and density estimates in the prickly forest skink (Gnypetoscincus queenslandiae) using individual genetic and demographic methods


Joanna Sumner. Fax +61 7 3365 1655; E-mail:jsumner@zoology.uq.edu.au


Dispersal, or the amount of dispersion between an individual’s birthplace and that of its offspring, is of great importance in population biology, behavioural ecology and conservation, however, obtaining direct estimates from field data on natural populations can be problematic. The prickly forest skink, Gnypetoscincus queenslandiae, is a rainforest endemic skink from the wet tropics of Australia. Because of its log-dwelling habits and lack of definite nesting sites, a demographic estimate of dispersal distance is difficult to obtain. Neighbourhood size, defined as 4πDσ2 (where D is the population density and σ2 the mean axial squared parent–offspring dispersal rate), dispersal and density were estimated directly and indirectly for this species using mark–recapture and microsatellite data, respectively, on lizards captured at a local geographical scale of 3 ha. Mark–recapture data gave a dispersal rate of 843 m2/generation (assuming a generation time of 6.5 years), a time-scaled density of 13 635 individuals * generation/km2 and, hence, a neighbourhood size of 144 individuals. A genetic method based on the multilocus (10 loci) microsatellite genotypes of individuals and their geographical location indicated that there is a significant isolation by distance pattern, and gave a neighbourhood size of 69 individuals, with a 95% confidence interval between 48 and 184. This translates into a dispersal rate of 404 m2/generation when using the mark–recapture density estimation, or an estimate of time-scaled population density of 6520 individuals * generation/km2 when using the mark–recapture dispersal rate estimate. The relationship between the two categories of neighbourhood size, dispersal and density estimates and reasons for any disparities are discussed.