Stable social aggregations are rarely recorded in lizards, but have now been reported from several species in the Australian scincid genus Egernia. Most of those examples come from species using rock crevice refuges that are relatively easy to observe. But for many other Egernia species that occupy different habitats and are more secretive, it is hard to gather the observational data needed to deduce their social structure. Therefore, we used genotypes at six polymorphic microsatellite DNA loci of 229 individuals of Egernia frerei, trapped in 22 sampling sites over 3500 ha of eucalypt forest on Fraser Island, Australia. Each sampling site contained 15 trap locations in a 100 × 50 m grid. We estimated relatedness among pairs of individuals and found that relatedness was higher within than between sites. Relatedness of females within sites was higher than relatedness of males, and was higher than relatedness between males and females. Within sites we found that juvenile lizards were highly related to other juveniles and to adults trapped at the same location, or at adjacent locations, but relatedness decreased with increasing trap separation. We interpreted the results as suggesting high natal philopatry among juvenile lizards and adult females. This result is consistent with stable family group structure previously reported in rock dwelling Egernia species, and suggests that social behaviour in this genus is not habitat driven.
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