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Thermal properties of artificial refuges and their implications for retreat-site selection in lizards

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Artificial retreats or refuges (ARs) provide a useful method for sampling lizards and a possible means of restoring habitat to aid population persistence. Previous research suggests that preferences for ARs may vary among species and between different designs. To test these ideas further, we examined the influence of thermal and structural characteristics on use of three types of ARs by the nocturnal common gecko (Hoplodactylus maculatus) and diurnal McCann's skink (Oligosoma maccanni), two lizards endemic to New Zealand. The field study confirmed that the three ARs (triple-layered Onduline, triple-layered iron, solid concrete) differed in retreat-site temperatures provided during each of three seasons (winter, spring and summer). In their top spaces, Onduline ARs were the warmest by day, coolest by night, and thus displayed the largest diel variations in temperature. In the laboratory, common geckos showed a significant preference for Onduline whether ARs were exposed to a radiant overhead heat source or not, whereas skinks did not display any preference among the three types of ARs regardless of heating. The three types of ARs provided field temperatures within the thermal preference range of both species (data obtained from the literature) but only for the top spaces of the ARs and only during summer. Onduline was the only AR to consistently provide the temperatures preferred by pregnant females. Although this study suggests that structural properties alone may be sufficient to explain the preference of geckos for triple-layered Onduline stacks, it does not eliminate the possibility that attractive thermal properties also contribute. Long-term studies are needed to test the effects of artificial refuge supplementation on reptiles, and on their predators and competitors.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Zoology, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand; 2: Coates Road, Birdlings Flat, R D 3, Little River, New Zealand

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