We have more than 100 species of lizard in Aotearoa. And the kicker is that while around 40% of our birds are threatened with extinction around 80% of our lizards are in this predicament!
The conservation sector has been busy knocking off stoats and rats to save birds and in the meantime lizards have been going backwards under an avalanche of mice, hedgehogs and the neighbours muggy.
What do we need to do to change the prospects for our mainland lizards – particularly skinks? If you are unsure – you are in good company. Thats what our project seeks to answer.
The Lizard Garden Project aims to develop a small-scale model of lizard conservation that can be replicated around the country by the community conservation sector. Working from a core of 1-2ha we will develop approaches to pest control and habitat modification that support increased lizard abundance - with a particular focus on ground dwelling species.
What conservation problem are you trying to solve?
One of the biggest challenges facing mainland lizard conservation is that we have only partial knowledge of the steps required to protect many of our existing populations. The role of mice predation is also poorly understood. Hence we lack a set of protocols that can be applied to support local populations.
Coupled with this, NZ lizards play second fiddle to our birds - this needs to change.
How are you going to solve this conservation problem?
We will use an adaptive management approach that targets a suite of predators with a particular focus on mice. The study areas will be no larger than 2ha each. DOC lizard technical advisory group have developed a set of pest control protocols, pest animal monitoring protocols and lizard survey protocols that will be replicated across 4 locations in Wellington and rigidly adhered to. locations include Miramar, Paekakariki, Porirua and Paraparaumu. We have output targets for pest animals. If the output target at any given location can't be met the pest control approach will be modified.
Control sites at each location will monitor lizards in the absence of pest control. A bio-statistician will manage data and modelling of lizard survey results which will be carried out biannually.
Lizard abundance of local species (northern grass skinks, raukawa geckos, copper skinks) will be the primary outcome measure. A report and (journal article) will be written.
What makes your idea new and unique?
Outside fenced sanctuaries there is little robust work that determines the level and type of pest control necessary to improve lizard abundance. There is no work that has tested 'small-scale' lizard conservation without a fence. While there are risks that the project will not succeed there is a big win if we can develop a set of simple protocols for the wider conservation sector. In the absence of clear proof and guidance groups are both unsure how to conserve lizards and reluctant to proceed.
Who will use your idea, and how will they benefit?
The community conservation sector. It is ideally suited to this sector as the work is small scale, labour intensive and can be applied wherever there are local lizard populations.
By the wider lizard conservation sector.
The research community. Results will be published.
What tasks or activities do you need investment for? How would you spend a $25,000 grant?
The project will run over 4-5 years due to the slow breeding pattern of NZ lizards. And 4 separate locations are involved hence the money would be split over time and site.
Money will be used primarily for
- Purchase and maintenance of pest control networks (traps toxins etc)
- Purchase and maintenance of lizard survey infrastructure (ACO layers, pitfall traps etc)
The lizard TAG will provide oversight and guidance along with Victoria University
Are you a New Zealand citizen or resident?
List five other ideas posted in the challenge that excite you. Why?
1. Predator free - the facebook frontier. I agree with the sentiment that conservation is a 'people game' not just a species game.
2. ESP cat - love the idea of connecting people to what is under the water in a sustainable and quiet manner
3. River watch testing device. Great tool for community conservation who can struggle with the technicality of current monitoring regimes
4. Traps, rats and stats: engaging the next generation - brilliant
5. Barcoding whitebait. Whitebait need our help and here is one crafty way to tell the story that is scientifically robust
How could you improve your idea?
Based on feedback and questions we want to incorporate the following opportunities
1. Our project is reliant on the best advice to date from leaders in this field (Technical advisory group). We need to ensure that we are inviting questions and debate and for this reason it would be useful to share our management interventions and survey methodology widely, early on in the trial.
2. Waikato/Victoria University have secured funding for a multi-year project on urban conservation. They have a lizard strand that is likely to be partially delivered in Wellington. They will be looking at ways to engage people with urban lizard conservation and the role that habitat modification might play in backyards.