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Context Despite the regular use of pesticides to control locusts, there is a lack of information on the effects of locust-control treatments on reptiles worldwide. Exposure to pesticides poses a significant potential hazard to small reptiles, both from the direct effects of exposure, and indirectly because of their largely insectivorous diet and small home ranges. Aims Our study aimed to monitor the effects of two insecticides applied operationally for locust control in Australia. A phenyl pyrazole pesticide, fipronil, and a fungal biopesticide, Metarhizium acridium (Green Guard®), were applied aerially in either a barrier or block treatment in the absence of dense locust populations, and effects on non-target arid-zone reptiles were measured. Methods We monitored reptile-abundance and community-composition responses to treatments using a large field-based pitfall-trapping experiment, with replicated control and spraying treatments, which approximated the scale of aerial-based locust-control operations in Australia. Key results Neither reptile abundance nor community composition was significantly affected by locust-control treatments. However, both abundance and community composition as detected by pitfall trapping changed over time, in both control and treatment plots, possibly as a result of a decrease in annual rainfall. Conclusions The absence of any significant short-term pesticide treatment effects in our study suggests that the two locust-control application methods studied present a relatively insignificant hazard to reptiles at our site, based on a single application. Similar to other areas of Australia, climate and other factors are likely to be stronger drivers of reptile abundance and community structure. Implications Monitoring over an area that approximates the scale of the current locust-control operations is an important step in understanding the possible effects of current pesticide exposure on reptile populations and will inform insecticide risk assessments in Australia. However, important information on the immediate response of individuals to insecticide application and long-term effects of exposure are missing. The preliminary research reported in the present paper should be complemented by future investigations on long-term and sublethal impacts of pesticide exposure on Australian native reptiles and the possible benefits provided to reptiles by the resource pulses represented in untreated high-density locust populations.
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