Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Novel Predators and Naïve Prey: How Introduced Mammals Shape Behaviours and Populations of New Zealand Lizards

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posted on 2021-11-03, 08:07 authored by Hoare, Joanne Marie

Biotas that evolved in isolation from mammalian predators are susceptible to degradation due to recent human-mediated introductions of mammals. However, behavioural, morphological and life historical adaptations of prey to novel mammalian predators can allow prey to persist in mammal-invaded areas. Lizards in New Zealand are an ideal group for exploring the effects of invasive mammals on vertebrate prey because: (1) the ca. 80 endemic species evolved without mammals as a major influence for 80 my, (2) mammalian introductions during the past 2000 y have differentially affected lizard species, and (3) some species coexist with mammals on the mainland as well as occurring on mammal-free offshore islands. I tested three hypotheses: (1) lizard populations that have persisted on New Zealand’s mainland are no longer declining in the presence of introduced mammalian predators, (2) introduced mammals induce behavioural shifts in native lizards, and (3) lizard behavioural patterns and chemosensory predator detection abilities vary according to exposure to introduced mammals. Trends in capture rates of five sympatric native lizard populations over a 23 year (1984-2006) period demonstrate that not all lizard populations that have persisted thus far on New Zealand’s mainland have stabilised in numbers. Large, nocturnal and terrestrial species remain highly vulnerable at mainland sites. Introduced kiore, Rattus exulans, induce behavioural changes in Duvaucel’s geckos, Hoplodactylus duvaucelii. A radio telemetric study demonstrated that geckos start reverting to natural use of habitats within six months of kiore eradication. Activity patterns of common geckos, H. maculatus, and common skinks, Oligosoma nigriplantare polychroma, in laboratory trials are also correlated with their exposure to mammalian predators. Lizard activity (time spent moving) increases relative to freeze behaviour with greater exposure to mammals. However, specific antipredator behaviours are not elicited by chemical cues of either native (tuatara, Sphenodon spp) or introduced (ship rat, R. rattus) predators. Lizard populations may persist by changing their behaviours in the presence of invasive mammals. However, the continued declines of particularly vulnerable mainland lizard taxa suggest that mammal-induced behavioural shifts may only slow population declines rather than enabling long-term survival. Eradicating pest mammals from offshore islands has proven effective at restoring both populations and behaviours of native lizards, but lizard populations on the mainland also deserve conservation priority. Research directed at understanding the synergistic effects of invasive species that are causing continued lizard population declines and mammal-proof fencing to protect the most vulnerable mainland populations from extinction are both urgently required.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Ecology and Biodiversity

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Biological Sciences


Daugherty, Charles H; Nelson, Nicky