Elvira Lanham

Elvira Lanham

Abstract | Gardens are not just for wall skinks - a threatened reptile in the suburbs

The nationally listed three-toed snake-tooth skink (Saiphos reticulatus) is a fossorial skink normally found in Gondwanan rainforest pockets along the Great Dividing Range of north-east NSW and south-east QLD. It is secretive and there are few records outside of this stronghold.

During preliminary assessments in 2016 as part of approvals for a long-awaited second crossing of the Clarence River, several records of this species were found in suburban gardens around Grafton. Suddenly a project that was considered to have minimal ecological impact was confronted with the rediscovery of this species which had not been recorded in the area for more than three decades and was seemingly confined to the suburban areas of Grafton. In addition, due to the difficulty of finding and capturing this species, there was very little known about its habitat requirements and behaviour.

A number of things were discovered during the study of this species, including the importance of how well a tree/shrub provides shade and leaf litter for skinks, rather than whether it is a native species or not. To ameliorate the project’s impacts on this species, a species specific management plan was developed and this entailed a number of facets including the development of a skink proof fence to delineate construction zones from non-impact zones, ecologists performing pre clear checks to capture and and relocate lizards as well as educating machine operators on this important species.

This resulted in 47 lizards successfully relocated to areas of suitable habitat securely fenced from the alignment of the new bridge. Information on suitable skink habitat plant species and resources on this species has been prepared and is being used in the progression of offset areas in gardens adjacent to the project, so that they could protect and enhance habitat in the surrounding area. The occurrence of a nationally threatened species in their suburbs created significant community interest.

This project demonstrated that habitat for threatened species can occur in unusual areas, and it is unwise to underestimate the ecological value of any area until it is thoroughly investigated. It also shows that management can be applied successfully, even in very urbanised areas for some species.

Bio | Elvira Lanham

Dr Elvira Lanham – is an ecologist with 22 years experience in NSW, QLD, SA and the USA. In 2002 she completed a PhD on the social behaviour of the Gidgee skink, Egernia stokesii and subsequently spent almost two years as a herpetologist surveying the national battlefields of Virginia, USA. Since 2004 she has been an ecological consultant, working primarily on impact assessment and fauna management projects. She was the project manager for the construction phase of the Additional Crossing of the Clarence River, Grafton.