Glowing Geckos Light the Way to Improved Biodiversity

Coated in fluorescent dust by Australian researchers, the sticky-footed reptiles leave behind shiny trails that highlight the importance of landscaping to farmland wildlife.

It turns out that if you sprinkle fluorescent dust on geckos, you can learn not only about the reptiles but also the biodiversity potential of farm land.

That's what researchers from Australian National University found, during a study on the sticky-footed creatures just published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment.

Geckos, the scientists found, use visual clues to move between separated habitat spaces, and changes to landscaping, they suggest, could go a long way toward improving, or harming, their lot and potentially that of other animals.

Old trees, for example, were shown to be important natural signage for the animals.

"Large, old, scattered trees have been shown to have immense ecological, social and economic value," said study lead Geoffrey Kay, in a statement. "Our work also shows that they are useful as visual flagpoles for native fauna navigating across the countryside."

The height of pastures and even the direction in which crops line up also influenced the geckos' movements, Kay and his team observed.

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The insights were all thanks to a bit of dust and some travel-ready geckos. The reptiles, coated with the glow-in-the-dark dust, left behind trails that lit up the night, allowing Kay and his team to map in fine detail the tiniest gradations of movement made by the geckos.

The trails showed that geckos could identify habitat from 40 meters (131 feet) away but they could not do so from 80 meters (262 feet). That told the scientists that markers such as trees indiscriminately cut down could reduce and fragment habitats of geckos and other fauna and could also make less recognizable the paths used by migratory species.

Kay, citing habitat fragmentation and land clearing as the biggest global threats to biodiversity, offered suggestions for a way forward.

"It is important that financial incentives are put in place to encourage landholders to crop landscapes directionally between habitat patches to enhance the connectivity for reptiles, and potentially other fauna, which are a conservation priority given their rapid decline in agricultural landscapes globally," he said.

Meanwhile, Kay added, new regulations – regarding the removal of old, scattered trees, for example – might be considered to keep key habitat signposts from disappearing.

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