, Volume 19, Issue 7, pp 2039-2051
Date: 19 Mar 2010

Rabbit burrows or artificial refuges are a critical habitat component for the threatened lizard, Timon lepidus (Sauria, Lacertidae)

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Abstract

Refuges are crucial for most animal species as they offer essential protection against predators and provide buffered environmental conditions to their occupants. Our data show that northern populations of the threatened ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus) depend on the availability of the burrows excavated by the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). In the last decade, a severe decline in rabbit populations has had a disastrous effect on lizard numbers. To compensate for the lack of refuges, artificial shelters were constructed in autumn 2005 and 2007 and were monitored the following years (2006–2009). Most of the artificial refuges were rapidly occupied by lizards, notably juveniles, suggesting that this technique was successful to improve lizard habitat. Because other factors such as food resources might be also crucial, further assessments are required to determine if artificial refuges are sufficient to stem population decline. These results nonetheless provide an encouraging option to maintain and/or to restore threatened populations, for instance through a buffering of rabbit burrow fluctuations. More generally, the availability of suitable refuges (e.g. natural or artificial) is likely to be a central component for the conservation of many reptile species. The combination of empirical and experimental data further demonstrates that great attention must be paid to the structure and distribution of the refuges and that simple practical actions can effectively improve habitat quality for threatened species.