Lizards and landscapes

Integrating field surveys and interviews to assess the impact of human disturbance on lizard assemblages and selected reptiles in a savanna in South Africa

Rhett Smart, Martin J. Whiting, Wayne Twine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

41 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Habitat degradation through over-grazing and wood collection is especially prevalent in developing countries such as South Africa. As human populations expand and the demand for land increases, the traditional idiom of setting aside protected areas for conservation is insufficient and assessment and protection of diversity outside these areas is needed. We assessed the impact of land use on lizard assemblages in communal rangelands in South Africa by comparing abundance, species richness and species diversity between degraded communal lands with a protected area. We first quantified vegetation differences between the study areas and found marked differences. Communal lands had significantly fewer large trees and less ground cover. Contrary to prediction, we found no evidence that any species of lizard was negatively affected by habitat disturbance. Some species were more common in communal lands, and species richness and diversity were also higher using certain sampling techniques. Terrestrial diversity was likely enhanced due to the preference of many terrestrial lizards for open, sparsely grassed areas. We discuss other reasons for increased diversity such as the intermediate disturbance hypothesis and/or reduced numbers of predators and competitors. We also conducted surveys of households and traditional healers to investigate the relationship between human uses of reptiles and abundance. The predominant users of reptiles were traditional healers. The most commonly used species were not encountered in our field surveys, and respondents indicated that they appeared to be declining. Our results emphasise the importance of integrating local knowledge into biodiversity assessment and conservation planning. Although we did not identify a negative impact of disturbance on lizard communities, community structure was different and this likely influenced ecosystem integrity and function in some way.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-31
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Conservation
Volume122
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2005
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Biodiversity
  • Disturbance
  • Ecosystems
  • Human impact
  • Lizards
  • Reptiles
  • Savanna
  • South Africa
  • Traditional medicine

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