Factors affecting overwintering retreat-site selection in reptiles in an agricultural landscape

Jackie L. O’Sullivan, Claire N. Foster, Damian R. Michael, Wade Blanchard, David B. Lindenmayer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)



Understanding what characteristics influence retreat-site selection by fauna is critical for both habitat management and species conservation. Despite the documented ecological values of surface rocks, there is limited knowledge of the attributes of surface rock that contribute to their use in agricultural landscapes or during winter months when reptiles are brumating, activity patterns are reduced, and sheltering individuals are most vulnerable to disturbance.


We surveyed reptiles sheltering beneath surface rocks in grazing farms in south-eastern Australia to address two questions: (i) What landscape factors influence the occurrence of reptiles over austral winter? (ii) What physical and thermal factors influence retreat-site selection?


We surveyed 14 sites, with three plots per site, stratified across a gradient of canopy cover. We measured landscape attributes of surveyed sites and thermal and physical characteristics of individual surface rocks to quantify relationships between the occurrence of reptiles in the landscape and the properties of retreats selected.


We found that relatively small patches of surface rock can support high reptile numbers, with density estimates up to of 208 individuals per hectare. Reptile abundance was positively associated with increased elevation and limited canopy cover. Reptiles selected smaller rocks with high surface area to volume ratio, were minimally embedded in the soil, and rocks supporting few invertebrates.


Conserving cryptozoic reptiles in agricultural landscapes can be enhanced through the appropriate management and retention of surface rock. We discuss implications for reptile conservation and surface rock management in agricultural landscapes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1177-1189
Number of pages13
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2023


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