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Lizard tales

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?

YES

I have read and agree to the Crowdicity Terms of Use, the Conservation Innovation Awards 2016 Supplemental Terms and Conditions, and the Crowdicity Community Guidelines

YES

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.

 

edited on Oct 12, 2016 by Angus Hulme-Moir

Fiona Edwards 8 months ago

Hi Angus - I'm a Conservation Ambassador based in Raglan. I love the concept and what you are trying to achieve but I'm concerned that a 2ha site will be continually re-invaded by predators and that the results may be compromised by this?

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Angus Hulme-Moir 8 months ago

hi fiona. you are right. we will have an intensive grid for mice that covers 2 ha and then a 1km grid beyond that which manages weasels,stoats,hedgehogs and possums. we are looking at options for feral cats but need to assess cat numbers first. we will use cameras for this. three of us have the sea on one boundary which makes it easier

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callispa 8 months ago

The Paekakariki site is in the middle of 70 hectares of land where some level of pest control has taken place since 1997. Currently there is nearly 180 traps across this area and 140 bait stations. But these have been targetting rats, mustelids and possums and we now know we have to see if we can tackle mice

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Shona Sangster 8 months ago

Hi Angus, great idea! Have you considered having a trial area on Stewart Island? We have no mustelids and very few mice so an area here could prove useful in isolating which pest species are the issue? Cheers shona

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Andy McKay 8 months ago

Hi Shona,

We are based around Wellington/Kāpiti Coast so the trial areas make sense for us in terms of coordination. A trial was run last summer on the Kāpiti Coast so we have a pretty good idea of what the major predators are. The big surprise for us was the impact that mice have on lizard populations.

We are also specifically trying to unravel the question of how to protect lizard populations in areas with a wide range of predators, so then we can spread this knowledge to other community groups around the country that may be facing similar problems. We need predators to be present so we can then test what the best way is to control them.

Thanks for your question!

Cheers,

Andy

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Angus Hulme-Moir 8 months ago

Hi Shona, it would be great to have others involved with this. We know from stomach content analysis and islands that pretty much everything eats lizards including many of our native birds. Our specific investigation is around mice as they tend to get away when the tohers are removed. what are you guys doing down there?

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Sarah Wigley 8 months ago

Hi Angus, great idea. I'm a potter and have just made a terracotta gecko hotel which also doubles as a garden sculpture. There are geckos, mice and loads of cats in my garden. However, I had to guess what features would be needed to keep predators out and attract geckos and - first version has small entry points that I'm hoping are too small for mice. If you go ahead with the project and would like to incorporate some "custom accomodation" in your models get in touch!

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callispa 8 months ago

If you can figure this out there should be these hotels in gardens throughout NZ!

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Andy McKay 8 months ago

That sounds really great!

From what I've read if a mouse can fit it's head through a hole the rest can fit as that is the widest part of its body. Lots of internet sites saying they can fit through any hole bigger than ~7mm (1/4 inch) but I'm not sure how true that is.

As for skinks/geckos and the spaces they can fit through I have no idea.

It's an interesting problem to try and solve!

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Angus Hulme-Moir 8 months ago

Hi Sarah
Very cool. I have friends who have good lizard populations in their backyard as they have a large number of stacked bricks and the lizards take refuge in the cracks. This is one of the reasons why our 'smaller species' like common skinks persist over our larger species such as robust skink. So doing just what you are doing is a great way to protect lizards in a backyard. Unfortunately cats still get them when they are basking in the sun. However, the more refuge, the more likely they are to survive. layers of wood, debris, corrugated iron etc etc are also great. We are investigating habitat modification on one of our sites too.

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Tui Nature Reserve Wildlife Trust 8 months ago

Great project, we are releasing wild species into predator free areas like Kakariki. We are thinking of the release of Giant Weta and Lizards into smaller areas to have a controlled environment. In this way we will create new populations for release. Definately mice is our last hurdle. Keen for updates. Good luck

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Angus Hulme-Moir 8 months ago

thanks. We need to work out a plan for getting our results out so that we can all learn as we go

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Andrea Reid 8 months ago

Great idea! Would be really interested in the data you get through this and potential future collaborations. Our idea Pollinator Paths is focused on helping pollinators in urban areas. Many people don't know that our native skinks and lizards contribute to pollination so we have been trying to educate people on this while include suitable lizard habitat within our sites to encourage them, but they are definitely the hardest pollinator to care for as they can't travel far and fly like our native birds so become quite isolated in single areas. It is also really difficult to figure out where their colonies are in urban areas as no one is mapping them. It's great to know there are others out there trying to help our native lizards and I look forward to seeing your results. It would be interesting to note in your research if there is any way of discouraging rainbow skinks while encouraging our native skinks too!

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Andy McKay 8 months ago

Hi Andrea,

What about setting up an urban lizard project on Naturewatch? There are currently 467 lizard observations on there, many in urban areas. http://naturewatch.org.nz/observations?taxon_name=Sauria

Cheers,

Andy

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Angus Hulme-Moir 8 months ago

Thanks Andy. that's potentially an option as a few of us are on naturewatch. Will need to chat to the wider group about how we go about it.

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Angus Hulme-Moir 8 months ago

Hi Andrea. Great to hear that you guys are telling the lizard story too! I don't think many people know they were key pollinators. I think there are great opportunities for backyard conservation with lizards - and lizard gardens. I note that Waikato/Victoria uni have secured a grant for urban conservation study which includes lizards as a workstream. Watch this space.
In the Miramar project site we are looking at wider engagement around lizards and the population out there including working with people who want to do conservation in their backyard. Keep in contact and will let you know how that pans out. It is not directly part of this project but part of the wider "predator free wellington project"

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Andrea Reid 8 months ago

Thanks Angus and Andy!

I am definitely interested in using more data from Nature Watch it's a great resource, just a bit hard to navigate at times. That's great news that Vic uni have started research in that field, I'll keep an eye out for the results. Would love to keep in contact, do you have a mailing list or similar? My email is pollinatorpaths@gmail.com cheers!

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Andy McKay 8 months ago

Hi Andrea,

I'm the chairperson for Ngā Uruora - Kāpiti Project which is one of the partner organisations for this project so I'll add you to our mailing list.

Angus will be able to answer if there is a specific mailing list for The Lizard Garden Project.

Thanks,

Andy

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Andy McKay 8 months ago

Hi Angus,

We had someone ask on the Paekākāriki Facebook page how budding conservationists at our school could learn more about this project or get involved. Any thoughts on this?

Cheers,

Andy

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Julian Fitter 8 months ago

Angus, we do lizard monitoring on Maketu Spit and Dotterel Point Pukehina (BoP) where we also have nesting NZ Dotterel. On Maketu spit we do an annual rat/mice control excercise in July/August using a grid of 150 bait stations. We manage to remove all rats, but have not managed to remove all the mice. We do not yet have data to show a clear increase in skink population, but it must be helping. We have a trapping fence at the narrow point of the spit which keeps mustelids at bay and helps to prevent rat reinvasion. Happ[y to share our experiences.

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Angus Hulme-Moir 8 months ago

Hi Julian. Be great to talk about this. I didn't realise you were monitoring lizards, that's awesome. What grid structure are you using for your baitstations? One of the things we are looking at is when it is best to hit the mice hard. In july/aug they tend to be on the low side and then take off again in November December when the grass seeds etc. I would also be interested in getting a picture of the vegetation at site - that also appears to have some correlation with mouse numbers.

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Julian Fitter 8 months ago

Angus, we use a 20m x 10m grid with 150 bait stations. baited for 3 weeks.
We do it in July August largely because we need to reduce rat numbers during the dotterel breeding season and we cannot access the area once they start breeding - mid-august.
Vegetation is largely sparse spinifex and some pingao, but with a variety of weeds which apart from patches of suckling clover (I think) not at all dense.
We catch some mice with GN24s, could they make a mouse orientated one? the GN36?
Contact me on julian@maketuwetlands.org.nz and I can put you in touch with Moniqua who does the lizard monitoring.

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Trent Bell 8 months ago

Great idea, Angus. My key angle would be looking at the mice problem in a future Pred Free NZ 2050 scenario. When you remove all the top preds from the ecosystem, the mice will explode with potentially devastating consequences for terrrestrial fauna such as lizards and invertebrates. I would suggest your project to investigate options for cost-effective, efficient mouse control at larger scales. 2 hectares is a good size to start with. I would suggest a bioeconomic analysis of the costs of pred control at these scales over time. with and without targeted mouse control. The new pitfall trap that WWF is funding may provide protective traps where there are potentially high pred numbers - keep posted on the developments at our end on that front. Good luck.

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Angus Hulme-Moir 8 months ago

Thanks Trent. We are looking forward to that pitfall trap. Plastic buckets have had their day. I guess its a big debate, but I wonder whether mouse numbers are more related to food availability than predation. On mana island they exploded when the cattle were removed and the grass grew. At whitireia they explode over summer and then drop back - although not to the extent that I would have hoped. I would love to get sheep at Whitireia but Robyn (who I coordinate with) would shoot me!!!

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callispa 8 months ago

Its a dilemma about sheep. They do keep the grass down and that not only helps stop the grass flowering but can also allow seedlings such as manuka and tauhinu come through thick grass - but they eat lots of other plants and especially love nothern rata - plus they knock over traps - perhaps a sheep fence in needed in a trial area and sheep put in now and again to keep the grass down - ecology is complex!

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Trent Bell 8 months ago

A dilemma indeed. For example, Carey Knox's thesis/paper found arboreal geckos (jewelled) benefited from grazing, as that reduced potential habitat for rats, etc; yet on the flip side, reduced terrestrial habitat for terrestrial lizards - no one's really answered that one. However, Norbury et al. found mice + exotic grasslands in pest controlled scenarios led to lizard declines (i.e exotic grass + pest control without mouse control a bad situation for lizards) vs no trend in native tussocklands. That said, different species may differ in their responses under the same situations. All this off top of my head, would need to re-read these papers. There is much more work to do in this field, and becoming critical in a future Predator Free NZ 2050 scenario, where we know that at present only the top preds - possums, mustelids and rats - will be targeted.

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Angus Hulme-Moir 8 months ago

I'm coming clean on the photo!!! its not an NZ skink! I really wanted a photo of a tail-less skink and for the life of me couldn't find one. Disappointed that only one person had me up about it!

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Trent Bell 8 months ago

Haha I noticed. I have one, if you like. Email me, if you want to fetch it.

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kev O'DOnnell 8 months ago

awesome ideas, so little attention has been placed on lizards and like how you're looking at starting at household or macro level

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Angus Hulme-Moir 8 months ago

cheers Kevin

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Christopher Wingate 8 months ago

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