A new report assessing the conservation status of reptiles at Aoteroa has confirmed the discovery of four new species of lizards.
It also found that nearly three-quarters of the country’s reptiles were expected to decline over the next three generations due to increasing pressure from predators and habitat loss.
Department of Conservation scientist Jo Monks said the 2018 Budget funding targeting data-poor species meant that scientists had completed extensive survey work in the past five years and now had more information on the lizards and their distribution.
the Conservation Department Report updated the threat classification status of New Zealand’s 135 reptiles.
“Trends are getting a bit worse for reptiles, we think 46 percent of reptile species were declining five years ago and the figure is now around 70 percent due to the variety of threats they face.”
More data meant that the status of nine species had improved, but 19 species were worse off and a subpopulation of green skinks on the South Island had gone extinct.
“We are particularly concerned about mice, hedgehogs and wasps, for which we really don’t have good predator control techniques or understanding of how they are impacting reptiles,” Monks said.
In 2018, scientists searching for Oteake skinks in central Otago came across a galaxy-patterned gecko among the grauvaca outcrops.
Previously undiscovered, the hurricane gecko is one of four species in the report that are “new to science.”
A rockhopper skink and an alpine rock skink were also discovered in Otago along with the Kahurangi skink in the Tasmania district.
But the status of the rough gecko, an endemic species to Canterbury and Marlborough, has worsened in the past five years and is now considered nationally endangered, meaning it faces a high risk of near-term extinction.
The report shows that 10 species of skink are now classified as critical nationally, meaning they face an immediate risk of extinction.
University of Otago Senior Professor of Zoology, Dr. Stephanie Godfrey, said it was concerning that a third of the reptile species in Aotearoa were classified as threatened.
“New Zealand is not well known for its lizard fauna, but actually the size of the land mass and the nature of our climate – we have a really impressive diversity of lizards and I think what this report shows is that we really need to look more up close and take care of them. “
She said that predators like cats and mice were “notoriously difficult” to control and were not directly covered by Predator Free 2050 vision, which meant that lizards did not have the same level of protection as other species.
Manaaki wildlife ecologist Whenua Landcare Research Grant Norbury said it was exciting to continue discovering new species of lizards at Aotearoa.
“All the species here are endemic to New Zealand, you don’t find them anywhere else and they have very peculiar life stories, it’s great.
“But at the same time, we have these really significant pressures on their population and we are still trying to describe what we have in the country, so we have a big problem.”
He says that the reptiles of Aotearoa were so unique that it was important to do everything possible to protect them.