An experiment to test key hypotheses of the drivers of reptile distribution in subalpine ski resorts

Chloe F. Sato, Jeffrey Wood, Mellesa Schroder, Ken Green, William Osborne, Damian R. Michael, David B. Lindenmayer

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    28 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    1. Alpine and subalpine ecosystems support many endemic species. These ecosystems are increasingly under threat from human-induced disturbances such as habitat loss and fragmentation as a consequence of ski resort development and expansion. However, limited peer-reviewed research has investigated the impacts of ski-related disturbances on wildlife, particularly on reptiles. 2. To address this knowledge gap, we conducted reptile surveys to determine the patterns of reptile distribution and abundance in Australian ski resorts. Then, using a factorial experimental design, we investigated 1) the influence of temperature and predation in driving observed distributions and 2) how a common ski resort management practice – mowing of modified ski slopes – affected thermal regimes and rates of predation of reptiles on ski runs. 3. We found that the removal of vegetation structural complexity through mowing resulted in significantly higher rates of predation on plasticine models, as well as significantly altered thermal regimes. 4. Crucially, mown ski runs had higher maximum ground temperatures that frequently exceeded the recorded critical maximum body temperatures of the target species of lizards. Thus, mowing has the potential to render these areas unsuitable for thermoregulatory purposes for a large proportion of the potential activity period of reptiles. 5. Together, modifications of the thermal environment and elevated rates of predation appear to explain the avoidance of ski runs by reptiles. To facilitate the persistence of reptiles in disturbed subalpine environments, management plans must focus on implementing strategies that reduce the impact of human activities that alter temperature regimes and predation rates on lizards. 6. Synthesis and Applications. We suggest that the retention of structural complexity on ski runs (e.g. through the cessation of mowing during peak reptile activity periods) and/or revegetation with native plant communities will concurrently provide refuge from predators and buffer against extreme temperatures, making ski runs more hospitable to reptiles. Based on our findings, we emphasize that effective management strategies targeting subalpine biodiversity conservation require an understanding of the drivers that determine species distributions in these landscapes.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)13-22
    Number of pages10
    JournalJournal of Applied Ecology
    Volume51
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2014

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    reptile
    mowing
    predation
    experiment
    thermal regime
    subalpine environment
    temperature
    disturbance
    ecosystem
    body temperature
    revegetation
    habitat loss
    habitat fragmentation
    test
    distribution
    endemic species
    lizard
    experimental design
    refuge
    targeting

    Cite this

    Sato, C. F., Wood, J., Schroder, M., Green, K., Osborne, W., Michael, D. R., & Lindenmayer, D. B. (2014). An experiment to test key hypotheses of the drivers of reptile distribution in subalpine ski resorts. Journal of Applied Ecology, 51(1), 13-22. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.12168
    Sato, Chloe F. ; Wood, Jeffrey ; Schroder, Mellesa ; Green, Ken ; Osborne, William ; Michael, Damian R. ; Lindenmayer, David B. / An experiment to test key hypotheses of the drivers of reptile distribution in subalpine ski resorts. In: Journal of Applied Ecology. 2014 ; Vol. 51, No. 1. pp. 13-22.
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    abstract = "1. Alpine and subalpine ecosystems support many endemic species. These ecosystems are increasingly under threat from human-induced disturbances such as habitat loss and fragmentation as a consequence of ski resort development and expansion. However, limited peer-reviewed research has investigated the impacts of ski-related disturbances on wildlife, particularly on reptiles. 2. To address this knowledge gap, we conducted reptile surveys to determine the patterns of reptile distribution and abundance in Australian ski resorts. Then, using a factorial experimental design, we investigated 1) the influence of temperature and predation in driving observed distributions and 2) how a common ski resort management practice – mowing of modified ski slopes – affected thermal regimes and rates of predation of reptiles on ski runs. 3. We found that the removal of vegetation structural complexity through mowing resulted in significantly higher rates of predation on plasticine models, as well as significantly altered thermal regimes. 4. Crucially, mown ski runs had higher maximum ground temperatures that frequently exceeded the recorded critical maximum body temperatures of the target species of lizards. Thus, mowing has the potential to render these areas unsuitable for thermoregulatory purposes for a large proportion of the potential activity period of reptiles. 5. Together, modifications of the thermal environment and elevated rates of predation appear to explain the avoidance of ski runs by reptiles. To facilitate the persistence of reptiles in disturbed subalpine environments, management plans must focus on implementing strategies that reduce the impact of human activities that alter temperature regimes and predation rates on lizards. 6. Synthesis and Applications. We suggest that the retention of structural complexity on ski runs (e.g. through the cessation of mowing during peak reptile activity periods) and/or revegetation with native plant communities will concurrently provide refuge from predators and buffer against extreme temperatures, making ski runs more hospitable to reptiles. Based on our findings, we emphasize that effective management strategies targeting subalpine biodiversity conservation require an understanding of the drivers that determine species distributions in these landscapes.",
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    Sato, CF, Wood, J, Schroder, M, Green, K, Osborne, W, Michael, DR & Lindenmayer, DB 2014, 'An experiment to test key hypotheses of the drivers of reptile distribution in subalpine ski resorts', Journal of Applied Ecology, vol. 51, no. 1, pp. 13-22. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.12168

    An experiment to test key hypotheses of the drivers of reptile distribution in subalpine ski resorts. / Sato, Chloe F.; Wood, Jeffrey; Schroder, Mellesa; Green, Ken; Osborne, William; Michael, Damian R.; Lindenmayer, David B.

    In: Journal of Applied Ecology, Vol. 51, No. 1, 2014, p. 13-22.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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    T1 - An experiment to test key hypotheses of the drivers of reptile distribution in subalpine ski resorts

    AU - Sato, Chloe F.

    AU - Wood, Jeffrey

    AU - Schroder, Mellesa

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    AU - Osborne, William

    AU - Michael, Damian R.

    AU - Lindenmayer, David B.

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    AB - 1. Alpine and subalpine ecosystems support many endemic species. These ecosystems are increasingly under threat from human-induced disturbances such as habitat loss and fragmentation as a consequence of ski resort development and expansion. However, limited peer-reviewed research has investigated the impacts of ski-related disturbances on wildlife, particularly on reptiles. 2. To address this knowledge gap, we conducted reptile surveys to determine the patterns of reptile distribution and abundance in Australian ski resorts. Then, using a factorial experimental design, we investigated 1) the influence of temperature and predation in driving observed distributions and 2) how a common ski resort management practice – mowing of modified ski slopes – affected thermal regimes and rates of predation of reptiles on ski runs. 3. We found that the removal of vegetation structural complexity through mowing resulted in significantly higher rates of predation on plasticine models, as well as significantly altered thermal regimes. 4. Crucially, mown ski runs had higher maximum ground temperatures that frequently exceeded the recorded critical maximum body temperatures of the target species of lizards. Thus, mowing has the potential to render these areas unsuitable for thermoregulatory purposes for a large proportion of the potential activity period of reptiles. 5. Together, modifications of the thermal environment and elevated rates of predation appear to explain the avoidance of ski runs by reptiles. To facilitate the persistence of reptiles in disturbed subalpine environments, management plans must focus on implementing strategies that reduce the impact of human activities that alter temperature regimes and predation rates on lizards. 6. Synthesis and Applications. We suggest that the retention of structural complexity on ski runs (e.g. through the cessation of mowing during peak reptile activity periods) and/or revegetation with native plant communities will concurrently provide refuge from predators and buffer against extreme temperatures, making ski runs more hospitable to reptiles. Based on our findings, we emphasize that effective management strategies targeting subalpine biodiversity conservation require an understanding of the drivers that determine species distributions in these landscapes.

    KW - grasslands

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    KW - lizards

    KW - mowing

    KW - predation risk

    KW - ski run

    KW - skinks

    KW - temperature regimes

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