The social elite: Habitat heterogeneity, complexity and quality in granite inselbergs influence patterns of aggregation in Egernia striolata (Lygosominae: Scincidae)



Habitat heterogeneity, structural complexity and habitat quality are key features of the environment that drive species' distribution and patterns of biological organization. Traditionally, pattern-based studies have focused on faunal responses to biological systems. However, the influence of non-biological environments such as insular rock outcrops on patterns of vertebrate distribution is conceivably as important, but has received less attention. Granite inselbergs are a naturally heterogeneous and spatially-limited habitat. As such, they provide an opportunity for investigating whether environmental attributes influence social behaviour in animals that use these kinds of habitat, particularly lizards that are well adapted to saxicoline environments. We applied ecological theory to investigate the influence of habitat heterogeneity, structural complexity and habitat quality on patterns of home-site occupancy in the crevice skink Egernia striolata (Lygosominea: Scincidae) from insular granite outcrops located within fragmented agricultural landscapes. We compared home-site occupancy among solitary juveniles, solitary adults and lizard aggregations. We found significant differences in home-site occupancy between aggregations and solitary lizard outcrop attributes measured at multiple spatial scales. The probability of a home-site being occupied by an aggregation increased where large rock masses were present, on northern aspects near the core of the outcrop and in structurally variegated landscapes. Significantly more aggregations occupied home-sites surrounded by high boulder cover and crevice microhabitat. We provide evidence that geophysical attributes of granite inselbergs and landscape context can influence patterns of lizard aggregation. Thus, we clearly document the environmental correlations of variability in sociality among subpopulations of Egernia striolata.