Following her recent paper in the Journal of Applied Ecology, ‘Remnant vegetation, plantings and fences are beneficial for reptiles in agricultural landscapes’Stephanie Pulsford explores the balancing act of supporting both agriculture and biodiversity conservation.

In a recent study of reptiles in grazing landscapes we demonstrated the importance of maintaining and promoting native vegetation within agricultural land for improved biodiversity conservation outcomes. We also showed that management actions within the production parts of the landscape can have positive conservation outcomes that allow us to achieve the joint goals of food security and biodiversity conservation.

Agricultural production is putting increased pressure on biodiversity. Therefore, we need to find better ways of managing agricultural areas that balance food production and biodiversity conservation. In our recent paper, we examined how a range of land management actions influenced reptiles in a grazing landscape in south east Australia.

Figure 1 Pulsford blog
A grazing property in south east Australia with scattered trees and linear plantings (Stephanie Pulsford)

We surveyed reptiles on 12 farms that had remnant patches of Box-Gum Grassy Woodland and four different paddocks types that were adjacent to the remnants (pasture, linear planting, fence line and coarse woody debris added to pasture). Each farm grazed was either rotationally grazed (i.e each paddock is grazed for short periods (days) followed by long periods of no grazing (months)) or continuously grazed.

We found that both remnant patches of woodland and paddock type affected the number and types of reptiles. The majority of reptiles did not respond to the size of the remnant patch and benefited from the existence of small to large remnants (0.7 and 400 ha). Linear tree plantings and fences both benefited reptiles, with higher numbers of species and greater abundance of less commonly captured species in the plantings and fence lines compared to the open pasture.

Vegetation proved to be the most important factor influencing the reptiles, both at the wider landscape scale as well as at the paddock level. At the landscape scale, abundances and richness of less commonly captured reptiles were higher in sites with greater tree cover in the surrounding landscape. At a smaller scale, tree cover, leaf litter, shrubs and rocks all had a positive influence on the reptiles.

Interestingly, the size of the patches of remnant vegetation did not affect the majority of the reptiles. It appears that the reptiles are able to use and move through the whole grazing landscape rather than being limited to just the remnants patches.

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We found that fences and linear plantings resulted in greater numbers and species of reptiles. (Stephanie Pulsford)

Our paper presents a range of management implications for conserving reptiles in grazing landscapes. Our key recommendations include:

  • Increasing tree cover in the general landscape
  • Protecting existing remnants of native vegetation regardless of size
  • Promoting key habitat features of trees, leaf litter and shrubs on farms
  • Establish and maintain plantings and fences, particularly adjacent to other habitat such as remnants.

This research provides clear management recommendations for conserving reptiles in grazing landscapes in concert with agricultural production. It is vital that we continue to find better ways of managing agricultural landscapes for the joint benefits of food production and biodiversity conservation

The full article, ‘Remnant vegetation, plantings and fences are beneficial for reptiles in agricultural landscapes’ is available in the Journal of Applied Ecology.