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The sensitivity of lizards to elevation: A case study from south-eastern Australia


Correspondence: Joern Fischer, Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, The Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia. Tel.: + 61 261254612; Fax: + 61 261250757; E-mail:


Lizard distribution patterns were examined in relation to elevation in two undulating landscapes. We asked three specific questions: (1) Were different lizard species associated with particular elevations? (2) Did biological attributes of lizards (e.g. body size, colour, reproduction strategy, etc.) vary with elevation? (3) Did species richness of lizards vary with elevation? Field data were collected in two undulating production landscapes in south-eastern Australia, approximately 100 km to the west of the Australian Capital Territory. Lizards were surveyed using 648 pitfall traps and 3840 m of drift fence. Both study landscapes were divided into 50 m elevation classes. For each elevation class, survey effort, the capture rate of individual species, and species richness were recorded. Correspondence analysis was used to sort lizards according to their altitudinal distribution profiles. Analysis of variance was used to examine if biological attributes of lizards were related to their altitudinal distribution profiles. Generalized linear modelling was used to relate elevation to the capture rate of individual species, and to species richness. Lizard species differed in their altitudinal preferences. Skinks, taxa with a Bassian distribution or distribution restricted to the Great Dividing Range, dark-bodied species and viviparous species were more likely to inhabit high elevations. Elevation was significantly related to the capture rate of seven species, and ecologically similar species replaced one another as elevation increased. Species richness peaked significantly at intermediate elevations in both landscapes. We conclude that lizards were highly sensitive to elevation. Elevation changes of as little as 50 m may be related to a change in species richness or species composition. Future research should assess if reptiles in other undulating landscapes with a temperate climate are similarly sensitive to elevation. If so, conservation activities in these landscapes need to consider the full spectrum of topographic positions and elevations.