Effective conservation of melanistic lizard species in the Greater Cederberg Biodiversity Corridor

Janse van Rensburg, Dahne A. (2009-12)

Thesis (PhD (Zoology))--University of Stellenbosch, 2009.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The Cape Floristic Region (CFR) is a biodiversity hotspot in South Africa, threatened by climate change and various other processes. The Greater Cederberg Biodiversity Corridor (GCBC) is a conservation area incorporating both public and private land, providing a practical and effective solution to conserve biodiversity in the CFR. This area is also home to two of the eight melanistic cordylid lizard species found in south-western South Africa. One of the herpetological conservation targets identified for the GCBC was an understanding of the ecology of melanistic cordylid populations with particular reference to global environmental change. Most melanistic cordylids occur in cool coastal and montane localities, and it was suggested that melanism has a thermoregulatory function in these species. The first aim of this study was to determine the climatic conditions with which melanistic cordylids are currently associated. Several melanistic cordylid populations showed a distinct association with a high incidence of fog and cloud cover, underscoring the thermal melanism hypothesis, which predicts that melanistic lizards should occur in cool environments. Several other populations, however, did not show such an association. The next aim was thus to compare habitat use and morphology among 10 melanistic cordylid populations. Individuals of the northern population of Pseudocordylus capensis and the Cordylus peersi population occurred in the warmest environments, used significantly higher rock formations, and had relatively longer limbs than those of other melanistic populations. Having a morphology that allows for flexibility in habitat use, may enable species such as P. capensis to overcome the constraints of melanism in warm environments. Being melanistic may result in decreased activity times in warm environments. The variation in habitat thermal quality and daily activity patterns of two melanistic cordylid species with different morphologies and habitat preferences, occurring sympatrically, was investigated. During summer, high rocks provided a better thermal quality habitat to P. capensis than small rocks, and P. capensis had a longer activity period than C. oelofseni. This suggests that the thermal opportunities provided by high rock enables P. capensis to increase its activity time. The impact of terrestrial and aerial predators can help shape body armour in lizards, with those species more exposed to aerial predators being faster and less armoured, and those more exposed to terrestrial predators being more heavily armoured. The degree of body armour in melanistic cordylids and their non-melanistic relatives was investigated. Melanistic members of the cordylus-niger-oelofseni and C. polyzonus clades had less armour than their non-melanistic relatives, supporting the prediction that melanistic cordylids basked more and were more exposed to aerial predators than non-melanistic lizards. An increase in body armour in C. peersi indicated exposure to terrestrial predators, whereas P. capensis had a reduction in body armour, indicating exposure to aerial predators. Little body armour, together with a slender morphology and long limbs, may thus enable this species to move with ease on large boulders and scale vertical surfaces to successfully avoid predators. Pseudocordylus capensis displayed much greater movement rates during activity than other cordylids. A less sedentary foraging strategy may be a prerequisite for life on large, barren rock surfaces where food availability may be low or not uniformly distributed. Both males and females of this species also had large home ranges, a unique phenomenon for cordylids. Space use of males only overlapped marginally, but extensive overlap among males and females and among females, respectively, was observed. Due to the constraining effect of climate on the distribution of most melanistic populations, melanistic cordylids should be considered as priority species for conservation. While P. capensis is pre-adapted for survival in warm climates, it is dependent on the availability of suitable habitats. The GCBC would thus play an important role in the conservation of this species’ habitat.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die Kaapse Blommeryk (KBR) is ‘n “biodiversity hotspot” in Suid-Afrika wat deur klimaatsverandering en verskeie ander prosesse bedreig word. Die Groter Cederberg Biodiversiteitskorridor (GCBK) is ’n bewaringsarea wat beide openbare en privaatgrond inkorporeer, en ’n praktiese en effektiewe oplossing tot die bewaring van biodiversiteit in die KBR bied. Twee van die ag melanistiese gordelakkedisse wat in suidwestelike Suid-Afrika aangetref word, kom ook hier voor. Een van die herpetologiese bewaringsdoelwitte vir die GCBK was om insig oor die ekologie van melanistiese gordelakkedis populasies met verwysing na globale omgewingsveranderinge in te win. Die meeste melanistiese gordelakkedisse kom in koel kus- en berggebiede voor, en daar is voorgestel dat melanisme ‘n termoregulerende funksie by hierdie spesies het. Die eerste doel van die studie was om die huidige klimaatstoestande waarmee melanistiese gordelakkedisse geassosieer word, te bepaal. Verskeie melanistiese gordelakkedis-populasies het ‘n duidelike assosiasie met mis en wolkdekking getoon, wat die termiese melanisme hipotese se voorspelling dat melanistiese akkedisse in koue omgewings moet voorkom, ondersteun. Verskeie ander populasies, het egter nie so ‘n assosiasie getoon nie. Die volgende doel was om habitatgebruik en morfologie tussen 10 melanistiese gordelakkedispopulasies vergelyk. Individue van die noordelike populasie van Pseudocordylus capensis en Cordylus peersi het in die warmste omgewings voorgekom, het relatief langer ledemate gehad en beduidend hoër rotsformasies as ander melanistiese populasies benut. ’n Morfologie wat buigsame gebruik van die habitat toelaat, kan sommige spesies soos P. capensis in staat stel om die beperkinge van melanisme in ‘n warm omgewing te oorkom. In warm omgewings mag melanisme tot ’n afname in aktiwiteitstye lei. Variasie in termiese kwaliteit van die habitat en daaglikse aktiwiteitspatrone van twee melanistiese spesies, met verskillende morfologieë en habitatvoorkeure, wat simpatries voorkom is bestudeer. Gedurende somer het hoë rotse ‘n beter termiese kwaliteit habitat aan P. capensis verskaf as die klein rotse, en P. capensis het ‘n langer aktiwiteitsperiode as C. oelofseni gehad. Dit stel voor dat die termiese geleenthede wat deur hoë rotse verskaf word, P. capensis in staat stel om sy aktiwiteitsperiode te verleng. Die invloed van terrestriële en lugpredatore kan help om liggaamspantser in akkedisse te vorm. Spesies wat hoofsaaklik aan lugpredatore blootgestel is, is vinniger en het minder pantser, terwyl spesies wat hoofsaaklik aan terrestriële predatore blootgestel is, meer pantser het. Die graad van pantser in melanistiese gordelakkedisse en hulle nie-melanistiese naasverwantes is ondersoek. Melanistiese lede van die cordylus-niger-oelofseni en C. polyzonus klades het minder pantser as hulle nie-melanisties naasverwantes gehad, en ondersteun die voorspelling dat melanistiese gordelakkedisse meer in die son gebak het en meer aan lupredatore blootgestel was. ’n Toename in pantser by C. peersi dui op blootstelling aan terrestriële predatore, terwyl P. capensis die minste pantser van alle melanistiese gordelakkedisse het, wat dui op blootstelling aan lugpredatore. Min beskerming, tesame met ‘n lenige morfologie en lang ledemate, mag dus hierdie spesie toelaat om gemaklik oor groot rotse en vertikale oppervlaktes te beweeg en roofdiere suksesvol te vermy. Pseudocordylus capensis het groter bewegingstempo’s tydens aktiwiteit as ander gordelakkedisse getoon. ‘n Meer beweeglike voedingstrategie mag ook ‘n voorvereiste wees vir ‘n lewe op groot, leë klipoppervlaktes waar voedselbeskikbaarheid dalk laag kan wees en nie eweredig versprei is nie. Beide mannetjies en wyfies het ook groot tuisgebiede gehad, ’n unieke verskynsel by gordelakkedisse. Mannetjies se ruimtes het slegs marginaal oorvleuel, terwyl daar heelwat oorvleueling tussen mannetjies en wyfies se ruimtes was. As gevolg van die beperkende invloed van klimaat op die verspreiding van die meeste melanistiese populasies, moet melanistiese gordelakkedisse as prioriteitspesies vir bewaring beskou word. Terwyl P. capensis pre-aangepas is vir oorlewing in warm klimate, is hierdie spesie afhanklik van die beskikbaarheid van gepaste habitatte. Die GCBK sal dus ’n belangrike rol vervul in die bewaring van die habitat van hierdie spesie.

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