Natural oak forest vs. ancient pine plantations: lizard microhabitat use may explain the effects of ancient reforestations on distribution and conservation of Iberian lizards

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Abstract

Natural vegetation in Europe appears nowadays deeply modified by human activities. In the Guadarrama Mountains (Central Spain), ancient reforestations with Scots pines, Pinus sylvestris, replaced original deciduous pyrenean oak, Quercus pyrenaica, forests (since the Roman period). However, the effect of reforestations on fauna remains little known, especially in reptiles. We described patterns of microhabitat selection in several species of Lacertid lizards, and analyzed whether the modification of the original vegetation affected distribution and population densities of lizards. The species of lacertid lizards found in oak forests (Psammodromus algirus, Lacerta lepida and Podarcis hispanica) were different to those of in pine plantations (Podarcis muralis and Podarcis hispanica). Lizards did not use habitat at random and this could explain differences in species found in both forests, which differed in some microhabitat structure characteristics. Most lizards selected microhabitats with rocky outcrops, with low cover of trees, and close to refuges. These microhabitat preferences also explained abundance of lizards in transects. From the perspective of conservation and management of lizards, pine plantations seem not to contribute too much to the diversity of lizard species because species typical from oak forests were lost. This study has implications for pine reforestation management, because allowing the recolonization by understory oaks, and leaving some open areas, without trees but with dense shrubs and rocks inside reforestations would contributed to maintain lizard populations.

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