Spatial ecology of bluetongue lizards (Tiliqua spp.) in the Australian wet–dry tropics

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Abstract

New technologies for quantifying animal locations enable us to document habitat-selection patterns of cryptic taxa in extraordinary detail. Northern bluetongues (Tiliqua scincoides intermedia) and centralian bluetongues (Tiliqua multifasciata) are large heavy-bodied scincid lizards that are broadly sympatric in the wet–dry tropics of north-western Australia. We used data from GPS-based radiotelemetry (n = 49 lizards, tracked for 2–121 days, total n = 61 640 locations) to examine the size, internal structure and overlap of lizard home ranges. Despite substantial habitat differences at our two study sites (semi-arid and relatively pristine habitat at Keep River National Park, Northern Territory, vs. highly disturbed and fragmented flood plain habitat in an agricultural area near Kununurra, Western Australia), home ranges were similar between the two areas, and between the two species. Our radio-tracked lizards continued to disperse into previously unused areas throughout the duration of the study, so that the total areas used by lizards continued to increase. Based on the minimum convex polygon method, total home ranges averaged 4 ha (range 2–12 ha), but only about two-thirds of each home range was used intensively. Each home range had multiple core areas, and overlap of core as well as peripheral areas (especially with same-sex conspecifics) was high at the disturbed (Western Australia) site where lizard densities were high. The concentration of lizard activity within small core areas, often used by multiple individuals, suggests that these heavily used sites are critical to lizard conservation. However, the lizards' infrequent long-distance displacements also make them vulnerable to changes in the wider landscape mosaic. Because GPS-based radiotelemetry can quantify habitat use at finer spatial and temporal scales than earlier technologies, it can provide a robust base for management of at-risk fauna.

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