Implications of past and future vegetation change for the lizard fauna of Motunau Island

Bannock, Carol A.
Fields of Research
Abundance, distribution and habitat preferences of the lizard species present on Motunau Island, off the Canterbury coast of New Zealand, were investigated. The aim of the study was to investigate the extent to which recent vegetation change on Motunau Island has effected the lizard community and what implications this has for the future management of the Island. Three species of lizard occur on Motunau Island; the common gecko (Hoplodactylus maculatus), common skink (Oligosoma nigriplantare polychroma) and spotted skink (O. lineoocellatum). Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) were present on the island from 1862 until their eradication in 1962. Since then, vegetation on the island has changed from being tussock-dominated to being dominated by exotic weeds. Data from lizard pitfall trap surveys carried out in 1967-75 by Tony Whitaker of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) were compared with new pitfall trapping data to determine if changes in the lizard population had occurred in response to these vegetation changes. The abundance of O. n. polychroma and H. maculatus does not appear to change significantly. The distribution of these two species were significantly correlated but neither showed any preference for a particular type. The abundance of O. lineoocellatum was significantly greater in 1996/97 than in the earlier DSlR surveys. This could be a result of the vegetation becoming more open and more structurally complex since the early surveys. This would offer greater opportunities for O. lineoocellatum (which is strongly heliothermic) to thermoregulate and forage. O. lineoocellatum showed no consistent significant preference towards any habitat type, although they tended to be found more in 'margin' habitat. Research into pitfall trapping and the way lizard behaviour may influence pitfall trapping data needs to be undertaken as there is a possible trap bias in this study. Management of Motunau Island needs to ensure that a structurally complex environment is maintained to ensure high numbers of all three lizard species can continue to coexist.