Smolensky, Nicole Limunga (2008-05). Population enumeration and the effects of oil and gas development on dune-dwelling lizards. Master's Thesis.
Habitat loss is one of the leading causes of species decline across all taxa and conservation practices require information on population trends. The Mescalero Sands ecosystem, New Mexico, USA, is experiencing landscape changes associated with oil and gas development. The dune-dwelling lizard community contains a habitat specialist, Sceloporus arenicolus, that is of particular interest because it has a very limited geographic distribution that is entirely subject to oil and gas development. Distance sampling is widely used to estimate population densities of many vertebrate taxa however assumptions can be difficult to satisfy with certain species or in certain habitats. Researchers must investigate the likelihood that assumptions can be satisfied before implementing any population sampling method. I had two objectives. First to investigate the precision of population densities of dune-dwelling lizards estimated via distance sampling that was coupled with double-observer surveys. Second to compare abundances of dune-dwelling lizards among sites that varied in oil and gas development. I conducted distance line transects and compared those density estimates to densities obtained from total removal plots. I quantified the amount of oil and gas development, habitat quantity and quality and correlated those to lizard abundances to investigate the effects of oil and gas development on lizard populations. I found large differences in density estimates from distance sampling and total removal plots that resulted from violation of distance sampling assumptions. Although distance sampling is a low cost method, it does not produce reliable density estimates for dune-dwelling lizards and is not an appropriate sampling method in this system. I did not find oil and gas development effects on the habitat quantity, quality or on the abundances of lizards. Lizard abundances were most strongly correlated to habitat quantity. Lizard abundances may be influenced by complex interactions between oil and gas development and habitat quantity and quality but controlling for those interactions was beyond the scope of my study. Before and after experiments and long-term studies at multiple sites would be required to more fully address the effects of oil and gas development on lizard populations in the Mescalero Sands.