Predation risk for reptiles is highest at remnant edges in agricultural landscapes.

Published online
28 Aug 2019
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Hansen, N. A. & Sato, C. F. & Michael, D. R. & Lindenmayer, D. B. & Driscoll, D. A.
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Preventing biodiversity loss in fragmented agricultural landscapes is a global problem. The persistence of biodiversity within remnant vegetation can be influenced by an animal's ability to move through the farmland matrix between habitat patches. Yet, many of the mechanisms driving species occurrence within these landscapes are poorly understood, particularly for reptiles. We used scented and unscented plasticine lizard models and wildlife cameras to (a) estimate predation risk of reptiles in four farmland types (crop field, pasture paddock, restoration tree planting and areas with applied woody mulch) relative to the patch edge and remnant vegetation, and (b) examine how predation risk was influenced by temporal change in the matrix (crop harvesting). Birds (55.1%), mammals (41.1%), reptiles (3.4%), and invertebrates (0.5%) attacked models, of which 87% were native species. Mammalian predators were 60.2% more likely to attack scented models then unscented models. Bird predators were not influenced by scent. We found predator attacks on models were highest at edges (49%), irrespective of adjacent farmland type, with a reduced risk within farmland (29%) and remnant patches (33%) (p<0.01). Both mammal and bird predators contributed to high numbers of predation attempts at edges. Removal of crops did not increase predation attempts in crop fields or other farmland types, although predation attempts were significantly lower along the crop transect after harvesting, compared to the woody debris transect. However, numbers of predation attempts were higher in edge habitats, particularly prior to harvesting. Synthesis and applications. Reptiles are at risk of predation by birds and mammals in both remnant patches and the farmland matrix, particularly in edge habitat. Our results demonstrate that edge habitats are potentially riskier for lizards than the farmland. Vulnerability to predation may be increased by a lack of shelter within edge habitats such as by increasing visibility of reptiles to predators. Therefore, to benefit reptiles, land managers could provide shelter (rocks, logs, and grasses), particularly between remnants and linear plantings which could improve landscape connectivity.

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