A THREATENED species of alpine skink probably survived extreme bush fires 10 years ago by sheltering in burrows, a study of the species has found.
Victoria’s Department of Environment and Primary Industries joined La Trobe University in a study to uncover some of the secrets behind the Guthega Skink, one of the state’s rarest reptiles.
A zoology student at the university Zak Atkins has been the key researcher, studying the nationally endangered skink in the isolated rocky outcrops of the Bogong high plains.
It is listed under Victoria’s Flora and Fauna Act as a threatened species.
“A big part of my research focused on the impact of the 2003 fires in the Alpine National Park on the skink populations,” Mr Atkins said.
“I found that this species may be more tolerant of wildfires than previously thought.
“Wildfire had been thought to be the biggest threat to the survival of this species, given their restriction to high altitude habitats and small geographic range.
“But the skink probably survives fire by sheltering in burrows in rocky areas.
“The effects of climate change could have a major impact on the future of skink populations.
“The limited and specific habitat characteristics of this alpine skink may not withstand the warming effects of climate change as this species is reliant on alpine conditions to survive.”
The senior scientist at the department’s Arthur Rylah Institute, Nick Clemann, said: “Zac Atkins’ research has made a vital contribution towards conservation planning for the Guthega Skink”.
“This is the first detailed study of this species’ biology and ecology in Victoria,” he said.
“The knowledge gained from this study has taught us a great deal about the skink’s diet, foraging behaviour, reproduction and vital habitat attributes.
“This will help us to develop ways to protect their habitat.
“It is also contributes valuable information that will help with the captive program at Healesville Sanctuary where the Guthega Skink is one of the ‘Fighting Extinction’ species.”