• A gecko trail blazes through the night. Photo credit: Ashley Kay, ANUA gecko trail blazes through the night. Photo credit: Ashley Kay, ANU

Glow-in-the-dark geckos help ANU researchers to map secrets of farm biodiversity in southern Australia

Researchers at ANU have used glow-in-the-dark geckos to help shed light on the mysteries of animal navigation and to help improve biodiversity in farming landscapes.  The study reveals the small navigating reptiles rely on certain cues to find their way, and can benefit from easy and cost-effective changes in landscape management, such as leaving isolated trees and planning the direction of sown crops.

The researchers used the nocturnal Marbled Gecko, which is common across southern Australia and dusted them with a fluorescent powder before releasing them back into the fields.  The fluorescent trails could then be tracked across the fields as the geckos headed to their nearest suitable habitat – a tree. 

The research found the geckos could identify habitat at 40 metres away, but not 80 metres away, suggesting that the loss of trees on farmland would both reduce the amount of animal habitats available on that land, and reduce the connectivity of already fragmented landscapes for some migrating species.

Lead researcher Geoffrey Kay from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society explained: "Large old scattered trees have been shown to have immense ecological, social and economic value. Our work also shows that they are useful as visual flagpoles for native fauna navigating across the countryside.” 

"Importantly, we've also discovered that movements between habitat patches are heavily influenced by the height of pasture, and the direction of sown crops in agricultural fields."

Mr Kay said the research presents some simple but potentially effective options for reconnecting fragmented landscapes in agriculture, but that there is also the need for stricter regulations to prevent the loss of critical habitat elements, such as old scattered trees. 

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