What Can Geckos With Backpacks and Tattoos Tell Us About Biodiversity?

PetMD Editorial
Published: June 04, 2018
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The effects of cattle grazing on biodiversity and the environment tend to be a major source of contention between wildlife conservationists and cattle ranchers. However, this does not mean they cannot work together to find solutions.

The Lyons’ family, who manage the 57,000-acre property of Wambiana, have opened up their Brahman cattle ranch to ecologists to study the effects of cattle grazing on the ecosystems and biodiversity of the cattle grazing lands.

To study the correlation between cattle grazing and biodiversity, ecologist Dr. Eric Nordberg from James Cook University has created a rather unique and innovative approach. His team of ecologists track, catch and equip arboreal reptiles—specifically the native house gecko, northern velvet gecko and Eastern spiny-tailed gecko—with GPS backpacks and fluorescent, elastomer tattoos.

The tattoos allow Dr. Nordberg and the ecologists to easily identify individual geckos, while the GPS transmitter backpacks allow them to track their movements and find their preferred habitats. The main result of their studies has been that the relationship between cattle grazing and biodiversity is complicated. As Dr. Nordberg explains to ABC News, “It doesn't necessarily have to be this binary response where what's good for the industry is bad for wildlife conservation and vice versa.”

While the smallest gecko species—the native house gecko—has actually seen an increase in their population, the Eastern spiny-tailed gecko has seen a decrease in their populations. This can be attributed to the fact that the house gecko is more of tree-dweller, while the spiny-tailed gecko prefers shrubberies, so they are more likely to be affected by cattle grazing. The largest of the geckos—Northern velvet gecko—has seen little to no changes in their movement patterns or populations. Dr. Nordberg attributes this to their size and the fact that they can be a bit of a bully when it comes to claiming territory and hunting grounds.

The study has shown them that the relationship between cattle grazing and biodiversity is ever-changing and not clear cut. There are species that will benefit from the changes in the ecosystem and others that will not. And these benefits or hindrances will evolve over time and can turn into the exact opposite.

The main takeaway that both parties have from these ongoing studies is that there needs to be communication between wildlife conservation and the cattle grazing industry to create a balanced and manageable interaction.

Image via Shutterstock

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