The importance of underground shelter resources for reptiles in dryland landscapes: a woma python case study

Bruton, Melissa J., McAlpine, Clive A., Smith, Andrew G. and Franklin, Craig E. (2014) The importance of underground shelter resources for reptiles in dryland landscapes: a woma python case study. Austral Ecology, 39 7: 819-829. doi:10.1111/aec.12150

Author Bruton, Melissa J.
McAlpine, Clive A.
Smith, Andrew G.
Franklin, Craig E.
Title The importance of underground shelter resources for reptiles in dryland landscapes: a woma python case study
Journal name Austral Ecology   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 1442-9985
Publication date 2014
Year available 2014
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1111/aec.12150
Open Access Status
Volume 39
Issue 7
Start page 819
End page 829
Total pages 11
Place of publication Richmond, VIC Australia
Publisher Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Asia
Collection year 2015
Language eng
Formatted abstract
For effective fauna conservation and management, ecologists are required to identify the resources that are critical for species to survive, and consider how these are distributed across landscapes. The critical resources usually considered are food and water, but the availability of appropriate shelter resources can be a key driver of habitat suitability for terrestrial reptiles and amphibians. Reptiles are important components of dryland ecosystems, yet we have little understanding about how anthropogenic disturbances affect the availability of shelter resources and reptile survival in drylands. In this study, we used VHF radio-tracking to assess the importance of shelter resources in determining the habitat use patterns of a Near-Threatened reptile species, the woma (Aspidites ramsayi; Pythonidae), in modified and intact dryland landscapes of Queensland, Australia. We compared the structural and thermal attributes of locations that were used, with those that were available. Using an information-theoretic approach, we found that the occurrence of womas was strongly associated with the presence of ground burrows, which are excellent thermal insulators. No other shelter type was capable of buffering our study species from sub-zero temperatures during winter, although summer temperatures of >40°C were buffered by hollow logs and piles of woody debris. Habitat use patterns were influenced more by the occurrence of underground shelters than by habitat type. Clearing status per se (cleared, regrowth or intact) had minimal influence on occurrence. Thermally buffered underground shelters are a vital resource for our focal species, and the availability of this shelter resource drives habitat suitability in modified dryland landscapes. Due to the key trophic role of reptiles in dryland ecosystems, and the excellent thermal buffering capacity of underground shelters, we propose that ground burrows may be potentially considered as keystone structures in drylands, and require a similar level of protection to ‘habitat’ or ‘legacy’ trees in forested ecosystems.
Keyword Arid
Aspidites ramsayi
Vegetation clearing
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Confirmed Code
Institutional Status UQ

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Created: Fri, 07 Nov 2014, 15:29:32 EST by Anthony Yeates on behalf of School of Geography, Planning & Env Management