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Improving habitat quality of restored forests for reptiles: Lessons from an Australian eucalypt forest

Craig, M., Hardy, G., Grigg, A. and Hobbs, R. (2012) Improving habitat quality of restored forests for reptiles: Lessons from an Australian eucalypt forest. In: World Congress of Herpetology, 8 - 14 August, Vancouver, Canada.


Restoration, through its potential to reduce the negative effects of habitat fragmentation, is becoming increasingly important in saving global biodiversity. However, evidence is increasing that passive faunal recolonization of restored areas may take centuries for some species, subsequently reducing, or negating, any restoration benefits for those species. Reptiles have been identified as typically the slowest vertebrate group to recolonize restored areas due to their low vagility and, often, specific thermal and microhabitat requirements, but relatively few studies have examined their recolonization of restored areas. We examined reptile recolonization patterns in pits restored after bauxite mining in eucalypt forests in south-western Australia to identify filters that slow, or prevent, reptile return and identify practices that reduce the effect of these filters. Three species, the skinks Cryptoblepharus buchananii and Egernia napoleonis and the gecko Christinus marmoratus were slow, or failed, to recolonize restored mine-pits. All rely on slow developing microhabitats (e.g. coarse woody debris and tree hollows) for shelter so the absence, or scarcity, of these microhabitats in restored forest is likely the unidirectional filter slowing their recolonization. Our work on E. napoleonis suggest that coarse woody debris densities need to be much higher ( ~ 50 logs ha-1) than current restoration prescriptions (1 log pile ha-1) to accelerate recolonization by that species. Another skink, Morethia obscura, was common in unmined forest and rapidly recolonized restored areas but disappeared as restored areas matured. Thinning and burning was an effective management strategy to facilitate recolonization by this species but its effects were short-term (<7 years), indicating that overdense vegetation structure is a dynamic filter that influences recolonization by this species, probably due to thermal requirements. Our study shows active management of restored areas to facilitate and accelerate faunal recolonization is required for some species, to maximise biodiversity benefits from restoration. Provision of coarse woody debris and planting species at densities that will approximate the structure of reference communities are two strategies likely to facilitate faunal recolonization in many forested ecosystems. Techniques to accelerate the formation of slow-developing microhabitats are poorly developed and are an important area for future research.

Item Type: Conference Item
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology
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