Population ecology of the velvet gecko, Oedura lesueurii in south eastern Australia: Implications for the persistence of an endangered snake

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Journal Article
Austral Ecology, 2008, 33 (7), pp. 839 - 847
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Ecological specialization, such as major dependence upon a single-prey species, can render a predator taxon vulnerable to extinction. In such cases, understanding the population dynamics of that prey type is important for conserving the predator that relies upon it. In eastern Australia, the endangered broad-headed snake Hoplocephalus bungaroides feeds largely on velvet geckos (Oedura lesueurii). We studied growth, longevity and reproduction in a population of velvet geckos in Morton National Park in south-eastern Australia. We marked 458 individual geckos over a 3-year period (1992-1995) and made yearly visits to field sites from 1995-2006 to recapture marked individuals. Female geckos grew larger than males, and produced their first clutch at age 4 years. Males can mature at 2 years, but male-male combat for females probably forces males to delay reproduction until age 3 years. Females lay a single clutch of two eggs in communal nests in November, and up to 22 females deposited eggs in a single nest. Egg hatching success was high (100%), and juveniles had high survival (76%) during their first 6 months of life. Velvet geckos are long-lived, and the mean age of marked animals recaptured after 1995 was 6.1 years (males) and 8.4 years (females). Older females (7.5-9.5 years) were all gravid when last recaptured. Like other temperate-climate gekkonids, O. lesueurii has a 'slow' life history, and population viability could be threatened by any factors that increase egg or adult mortality. Two such factors - the removal of 'bush rocks' for urban gardens, and the overgrowth of rock outcrops by vegetation - could render small gecko populations vulnerable to extinction. In turn, the reliance of predatory broad-headed snakes on this slow-growing lizard species may increase its vulnerability to extinction. © 2008 The Authors.
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