Why didn’t the lizard cross the road? Dunes sagebrush lizards exhibit road-avoidance behaviour
Authors: T. J. Hibbitts, L. A. Fitzgerald , D. K. Walkup and W. A. Ryberg
Context: Research has shown many negative effects of roads and traffic on wildlife and other biodiversity. The direct and indirect mechanisms through which roads and traffic harm animal populations vary across taxa, making mitigation of road effects a great challenge for conservation. As such, a large toolkit of species-specific management techniques may be needed to mitigate the negative effects of roads for wildlife and other biodiversity. The dunes sagebrush lizard, Sceloporus arenicolus, is a psammophilic (sand-loving) habitat specialist endemic to the Mescalero–Monahans Sandhills ecosystem of New Mexico and Texas. Within this ecosystem, roads fragment shinnery oak sand-dune landforms occupied by the species.
Aims: In the present study, we conducted behaviour trials in experimental enclosures to test whether the smallest roads restrict movements of the dunes sagebrush lizard. In addition, we also conducted trials to evaluate whether a sand-filled wildlife-crossing feature could facilitate road crossing.
Methods: We conducted behavioural trials on 24 dunes sagebrush lizards in our control enclosure and 22 lizards in our road and sand-filled wildlife-crossing enclosure. Movements were recorded for 15 min. The final locations at the end of each trial were analysed using circular statistics to determine whether movements in the road or the sand-filled wildlife-crossing enclosures were different from the control.
Key results: Our results supported the hypotheses that dunes sagebrush lizards avoid roads and do so according to a surface-avoidance mechanism. We also found that the wildlife crossing-feature design tested here had no effect on the movements or road-crossing frequency of dunes sagebrush lizard.
Conclusions: Surface-avoidance behaviour indicated that roads will persistently affect the movements of dunes sagebrush lizard, even when traffic is not present. Also, more research into an effective wildlife crossing is needed to increase connectivity of fragmented populations.
Implications: These findings help evaluate the impact of roads in creating isolated populations that experience increased demographic stochasticity and, in some instances, localised extirpation in this species. Our study can guide conservation plans for the dunes sagebrush lizard, and contribute to our understanding of road effects on biodiversity in general.
Hibbitts Toby J., Fitzgerald Lee A., Walkup Danielle K., Ryberg Wade A. (2017) Why didn’t the lizard cross the road? Dunes sagebrush lizards exhibit road-avoidance behaviour. Wildlife Research. https://doi.org/10.1071/WR16184