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Lizard diversity in response to human-induced disturbance in Andean Ecuador

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The cloud-forests of the Western Ecuadorean Andes are highly diverse and under threat from anthropogenic habitat disturbance. Reptiles are sensitive to habitat change and are therefore useful indicators of ecosystem state. Overall diversity has been shown to be highest in old-growth (primary) forest, although older secondary forests can recover to near pre-disturbance levels. We systematically surveyed leaf-litter lizard diversity along a gradient of disturbance in a montane cloud-forest fragment whilst controlling for the potentially confounding effect of elevation. We deployed 21 pitfall trap-lines equally between primary forest, secondary forest of mid-age (18–30 years), and agroforestry, between three altitudinal bands for ten days each over a period of three years. We investigated diversity patterns using Chao 1 and 2 indices (estimated richness), effective species number (ESN), relative abundance of individual species, relative abundance of pooled species, and observed species richness. We also conducted an opportunistic inventory of reptile species. We recorded 7 species of leaf-litter lizards and 15 other species of squamate, the majority of which are rare, recently described and/or of restricted distribution. Elevation was strongly negatively correlated with diversity. Richness and most indices of diversity were higher in primary forest but abundance was similar in primary forest and agroforestry. ESN followed a negative linear response to disturbance but for all other measures agroforestry supported diversity that was either higher than or equal to secondary forest. We conclude that, particularly at high elevations, mid-aged secondary forest is depauperate of leaf-litter lizards but agroforestry potentially supports relatively large populations of generalist species.
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Keywords: ANDES; CLOUD-FOREST; DISTURBANCE; ECUADOR; LIZARD

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2016

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