Six years research into Guthega skinks is helping us manage and conserve this critically endangered lizard.

These little skinks live on ‘sky islands’, on Australia’s highest peaks. That includes Victoria’s Bogong High Plains and Mount Kosciusko National Park in NSW. Around 100km of lowland valleys separate these two populations of high living lizards. 

Dr Zak Atkins’ study investigated what they eat, their reproduction, life history and genetics. It will help us better understand what these endangered reptiles need. The research was supervised by one of our Arthur Rylah Institute (ARI) scientists Nick Clemann. 

Zak has found that the separate alpine populations have a lot in common. They all like to eat local berries in the summer and mainly invertebrates the rest of the year. But there are also differences. The NSW Guthega skinks have higher genetic diversity, reproduce earlier, have bigger litters and grow faster and larger compared to Victorian Guthega skinks. This means that the Victorian population faces a greater risk of extinction.  

Of all Australian lizards and snakes, alpine reptiles like the Guthega skink are particularly at risk. They face threats from climate change, habitat destruction, people disturbing rocks, and feral species like horses and deer. Zak’s research has provided a robust, evidence-based foundation to help us better manage this species. Next, he and Nick will collaborate with  Zoos Victoria , both in the wild and in a new ‘Skink Chalet’ at Healesville Sanctuary, where the value of genetic mixing of Victorian and NSW Guthega Skinks will be investigated. 

It’s projects like this one that are supporting Victoria’s biodiversity.

Further reading

Demographic and life history variation in two sky‐island populations of an endangered alpine lizard

Allopatric divergence drives the genetic structuring of an endangered alpine endemic lizard with a sky‐island distribution

Blue Guthega skink on rock

Page last updated: 19/09/19