Mirages or miscalculations? Mass mortality of lizards in a hypersaline lake

J. Sean Doody, Kari Soennichsen, Brett Bartek, Cody Godwin, David Rhind, Chris Murray, Thomas Whitmore, Patrick De Deckker, Simon Clulow

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Hypersaline or salt lakes are globally widespread landlocked waterbodies with salinities often approaching or even exceeding that of seawater. They are generally depauperate of animals due to stressful or toxic salt levels, and there have been instances of salt toxicosis and associated mass mortality in birds visiting salt lakes. We discovered evidence of repeated mass mortality of lizards and other fauna in an unnamed salt lake in the Great Sandy Desert of central Australia. We could find no reports of similar mortality in reptiles associated with hypersaline lakes, despite the prevalence of both worldwide. Mortality may be due to salt toxicosis via drinking or salt encrustation; alternatively, mortality could be due to some other agent such as cyanobacterial toxins, although the locals have safely consumed the salt for decades. Finally, mortality may be related to flash flood events. We discuss our observations as well as the salt adaptations of lizards, and we outline future research that is required to reveal the cause of this periodic mortality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)415-421
Number of pages7
JournalHerpetology Notes
Publication statusPublished - 30 May 2023


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