The Striped Legless Lizard is part of a uniquely Australasian reptile family – the legless lizards. While it looks a lot like a snake, it is more closely related to geckos, and is non-venomous. Unlike snakes, it has vestigial hind legs (just a small flap of tissue) and no forked tongue.
We have worked with the University of NSW and Charles Sturt University to research how fire and grazing are impacting the Striped Legless Lizard and its habitat. The results of the study, recently published in the international journal Landscape Ecology, show how important fire and grazing management are for conserving the species.
Dwindling grassland habitat poses a threat to the survival of this nationally vulnerable reptile. But nine years of scientific surveys have provided some valuable insights into how we can manage this habitat and support the Striped Legless Lizard’s survival.
The lizard’s stronghold in the grasslands of Victoria’s western plains once stretched from Melbourne and Geelong almost all the way to the South Australian border. Since European settlement, its habitat has been reduced to what is now just pockets of native grasslands that can be found along railway lines, roadsides, on private land and even in cemeteries.
One of our Senior Scientists Michael Scroggie, from the Arthur Rylah Institute, says more than 290 sites in western Victoria have been surveyed over 9 years, to determine where the lizard could be found, in what numbers and where it no longer existed. ‘After looking at all the data it became clear that the species is clearly still declining, which is worrying.
‘Our research indicated that the key to maintaining the Striped Legless Lizard in its current habitat is getting the fire and grazing regime right.
‘Too much of either, destroys the grassland. But without some fire management, the grassland can be invaded by weeds, which is also bad for the lizard’s habitat and survival.’
Garry Peterson Program Manager Natural Environment Programs from our Barwon Southwest region, who initiated the surveys, says they’ve discovered roadside grassland areas have become very important to the lizard’s survival. ’Over 50 per cent of the sites where we found the lizard were on roadside native grassland in southwest Victoria - that’s a very important habitat for it.
‘So, we’ve worked with organisations like the CFA around appropriate planned burning regimes for the roadside grasslands,’ says Garry. ‘We’ve also received state and federal government funding through the Linear Reserves Project, which involves ecological burning and strategic weed control.’
The study also considered the potential benefits grazing livestock could have on the lizard’s habitat. ‘While grazing has some benefits for the Striped Legless Lizard, our preferred management tool is burning, which also has beneficial outcomes for other small vertebrates, and native flora species. The careful, active burning of our roadsides is one of the key reasons these are now the 'jewels in the crown’ of our remaining grasslands in Victoria.’
Garry is hoping that future research will revisit those areas surveyed several years ago. He is also interested in investigating how climate change is impacting the Striped Legless Lizard.
Landscape Ecology Journal - Disturbance has benefits as well as costs for fragmented populations of a cryptic grassland reptile
Typical Striped Legless Lizard habitat:
Page last updated: 13/12/19