Predators, prey or temperature? Mechanisms driving niche use of a foundation plant species by specialist lizards.

Journal: Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Published: 2021-03-31

DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2020.2633

Affiliations: 2

Authors: 3

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Research Highlight

Lizards keep their cool in spiky grass

© Kristian Bell/Moment/Getty Images

© Kristian Bell/Moment/Getty Images

Spiky spinifex grass may help lizards cool off in the Australian outback.

Foundation species, such as grasses and coral, support diverse ecosystems by providing food, shelter or a preferable microclimate. Many Australian lizards have a preference for spinifex, a spiky grass, but it was unclear what benefit the plant conveys.

A team that included researchers from Deakin University put two species of lizards in three identical enclosures containing dead and alive spinifex, a similarly spiky plant, and bare ground. They then monitored the lizards’ movements over 18 days.

Food availability and predators were the same between sites, but temperatures were a few degrees cooler in the spinifex than over bare ground. Both species spent the most time on bare ground, but they preferred spinifex at warmer temperatures, suggesting they sought a respite from the heat.

Understanding what draws species to niche habitats is important for predicting their response to land use or climate change.

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  1. Proc. R. Soc. B 288, 20202633 (2021). doi: 10.1098/rspb.2020.2633
Institutions Share
Deakin University, Australia 0.83
The University of Sydney (USYD), Australia 0.17