Liopholis kintorei 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Reptilia Squamata Scincidae

Scientific Name: Liopholis kintorei (Stirling & Zietz, 1893)
Common Name(s):
English Great Desert Skink, Kintore’s Egernia
Egernia kintorei Stirling & Zietz, 1893

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable C1 ver 3.1
Year Published: 2018
Date Assessed: 2017-02-23
Assessor(s): Paltridge, R., Catt, G., Cowan, M., Gaikhorst, G., How, R., Zichy-Woinarski, J., Cogger, H. & Teale, R.
Reviewer(s): Cox, N.A. & Bowles, P.
Contributor(s): Moore, D.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Chanson, J.S.
Listed as Vulnerable because the global population contains fewer than 10,000 mature - and based on conservative estimates, potentially fewer than 5,000 - mature individuals. The largest subpopulation for which recent estimates are available, in Newhaven, is likely to consist of fewer than 1,500 individuals (including both mature adults and juveniles); at most, there is only one other subpopulation - in the Tanami Desert - of comparable or greater size. Declines have been continuing in most subpopulations for at least 20 years, thought to be driven primarily by fire and predation by cats (estimated to be about a 20% decline based on the population estimates in 2001 and 2017; see Population section below). The population is presently secure only in Newhaven and, following a severe decline since 2012, in Uluru/Yulara, where the species is dependent on active, ongoing conservation management that limits the spread of wildfires.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:This species occupies an area of around 500,000 km2 in the eastern interior of Western Australia (including areas of the Gibson Desert and Great Sandy Desert), adjacent regions of southwestern Northern Territory (Tanami Desert and Great Sandy Desert), and north-western South Australia (McAlpin 2001, Cogger 2014). Within this vast range, its distribution is patchy and it is known to be extant at fewer than 100 localities (Dennison et al. 2015) across six major distribution centres (McAlpin 2001). Desert Wildlife Services (unpubl. data) identify twelve subpopulations, only five of which contain more than 20 known family burrows. Only two of the twelve subpopulations have been discovered since 2001, neither containing more than 50 active burrows when first detected (R. Paltridge and Central Land Council, unpubl. data 2017). One of these, Napperby, might have been lost, as no active burrows have been detected since 2015 and camera trapping subsequently recorded only a single individual, in 2016 (R. Paltridge, unpubl. data 2017).
Countries occurrence:
Australia (Northern Territory, South Australia, Western Australia)
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Considerable anecdotal evidence indicates a general decline in the overall population of this species, and it has disappeared from many sites during the past 50 years (McAlpin 1997 cited in McAlpin 2001), a trend subsequently supported by more systematic monitoring of some subpopulations (Desert Wildlife Services, unpubl. data). A number of sites subject to monitoring in the 1990s appear to have no extant subpopulations; at others the number of burrows has declined from more than 50 to fewer than 10 following fire (Desert Wildlife Services, unpublished data). Early data from a study of the largest known subpopulation - in Newhaven - provides evidence of cat predation on this species (D. Moore, unpublished data). A subpopulation exists in an extensive sandplain of several hundred kilometres to the east of Kiwirrkura in the Gibson Desert which McAlpin (2001) considered was likely to be significant. Extensive surveys in this area over the subsequent 16 years suggests that the true extent of this subpopulation is around 20 km2 and that it is unlikely to contain more than 500 individuals (R. Paltridge pers. comm. 2017). Many Aboriginal people have reported local extinctions or dramatic population declines for Great Desert Skinks in areas where they had once been common (McAlpin 2001). There has been more recent evidence of local declines in the Western Desert part of the Northern Territory (Desert Wildlife Services, unpubl. data).  In 2001, the global population was estimated (as a "very rough guide", given limited survey effort in the most remote parts of the range) to consist of around 6,250 individuals, with the Patjarr and Tanami Desert subpopulations each containing approximately a third of the known global population (McAlpin et al. 2001). By 2017 it was estimated that an upper limit in the region of 1,300 burrows remained active (excluding a subpopulation in Sangsters-Rabbit Flat whose size is unknown but expected to be "sizeable") (Desert Wildlife Services, unpubl. data), with significant declines having taken place over the past two decades in every subpopulation outside Newhaven (R. Paltidge pers. comm. 2017). In the Ngaanyatjarra Indigenous Protected Area, which encompasses the Patjarr site, fewer than 20 active burrows have been found since 2007, although the area is not well-surveyed (Ngaanyatjarra Council, unpubl. data). Although more than 700 active burrows have been recorded at Newhaven, many of these are recent and contain only 1-2 individuals; the total population size in Newhaven is consequently estimated at approximately 1,500 individuals as an upper limit (Australian Wildlife Conservancy unpubl. data 2016). This suggests that the true global population size may in fact number fewer than 5,000 individuals. A 2017 estimate, excluding the Ngaanyatjarra Indigenous Protected Area and Tanami Desert subpopulations - the latter estimated at fewer than 2,250 individuals in 2001, and considered likely to be "sizeable" in 2017 - suggests an upper limit of around 2,700-2,750 individuals throughout the remainder of the range. This estimate does not distinguish between age classes; the number of mature individuals will consequently be lower. Effective population size is estimated to be 1-5% of actual population size (Dennison et al. 2015). Five major, widely-separated distribution centres are recognized by Dennison et al. (2015), between which these authors identify substantial genetic divergence. A sixth, in Rudall River National Park, was inaccessible and essentially unstudied by McAlpin (2001), who thought that it may represent a significant subpopulation. Subsequent, "quite extensive" searches in this area have recorded fewer than 20 burrows, and the estimated maximum population size in this area is below 100 individuals (K. Jukurrpa, unpubl. data 2017).
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:4999-9999Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:This burrowing, crepuscular to nocturnal species (Wilson and Swan 2013) occurs in a variety of desert habitats on sandy and loamy soils (Cogger 2014), including sand plains characterized by Triodia grasses, grass shrubland, and open woodland (Dennison et al. 2015). While the species has been recorded in a range of habitats, its habitat preferences exhibit some geographical structuring, with different habitat preferences having been recorded for subpopulations in different localities (McAlpin 2001). It is a long-lived, colonial species in which up to 10 closely-related animals occupy a single burrow system, which may be continuously occupied for up to 7-10 years (McAlpin 2001, Dennison et al. 2015), and an average of 4 (Moore et al. 2015). The species is viviparous and females give birth to a single litter of 1-7 young annually (McAlpin 2001). Males have been reported to be polygamous and migrate during the breeding season; a single male may father offspring in multiple burrows (McAlpin et al. 2011), but conflicting data exists as this no evidence of this behaviour has been reported at Newhaven. Animals have been reported to disperse up to 9 km over a lifetime, but typically between 0-4 km (McAlpin et al. 2001).
Generation Length (years):8

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: This species is found in the pet trade, and is also eaten by Aboriginal people.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): This species is known to have been lost from a number of historical localities, particularly in the Gibson Desert, Great Victoria Desert and Great Sandy Desert (McAlpin 2001). Threats to this species include altered fire regimes, predation by feral cats and foxes, burrow displacement by feral rabbits, and increased tourism development (McAlpin 2001). In 2000 alone wildfires affected around 30% of the Tanami Desert bioregion, which is thought to contain around a third of this species' global population (McAlpin 2001). These fires can destroy most or all of the surface vegetation, and it is thought that subpopulations of this lizard may be unable to survive a large fire in which no nearby unburned habitat remains to provide food and cover (McAlpin 2001). This is supported by both field observations and experimental burning of burrow sites, which found that both site occupancy and breeding success (the latter measured by evidence of juvenile occupation) decreased as rapidly as four months after burning in both partially and fully burned sites (Moore et al. 2015). The greatest impact was recorded in areas with no remaining surface vegetation (Moore et al. 2015). This loss of cover may further increase the susceptibility of animals to cat predation, and this is likely to be the major secondary impact on the species' population from fire (Moore et al. 2015). In parts of the range the impact and extent of fire may be exacerbated by the spread of invasive buffel grass (J. Woinarski pers. comm. 2017). Predation pressure is thought to be greatest on animals in their second year, potentially before they can successfully establish burrows and attract mates (McAlpin 2001), a threat exacerbated by the low fecundity of this lizard. All subpopulations outside Newhaven and - following improved fire management after a 2012 fire that halved the number of active burrows - Uluru/Yulara are thought to be vulnerable to the interacting impacts of fire and feral cats, and most are under additional pressure from harvesting for food (R. Paltridge pers. comm. 2017). This latter is a longstanding indigenous tradition that is unlikely to have exerted significant historical pressure on this species, but remnant subpopulations are now so small and fragmentary that it has the potential to result in local extinctions (R. Paltridge pers. comm. 2017). The colonial structure of this lizard may also exacerbate the impacts of predation, as the loss of an individual male may impact breeding success across multiple burrow systems (Moore et al. 2015). Observations at Uluru in 1998 indicated that only 15% of the population consisted of subadults, a finding taken to indicate a high mortality rate for animals leaving the natal burrow (McAlpin 2001). There is an increase in mining interest in some of the species' range.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: This species is classified as Vulnerable nationally in Australia as well as in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, and Endangered in South Australia (Department of the Environment 2016). It occurs in Rudall River National Park, and all known localities are on lands under management by indigenous peoples (McAlpin 2001). While there is some engagement with indigenous communities and some monitoring undertaken by local land councils, further training of Aboriginal stakeholders in survey methods and ensuring their "strong involvement" in management projects focusing on this species are recommended (Threatened Species Scientific Committee Conservation Advice). There was a recovery plan from 2001-2011 for this species; development of a new recovery plan was recommended in 2016 (Threatened Species Scientific Committee Conservation Advice). In some parts of its range there is targeted management of fire and feral cats. The Threatened Species Scientific Committee has issued specific conservation advice for this species, identifying invasive predator control and the restoration of traditional fire management regimes as priority conservation objectives, and also recommending control of feral grazers and invasive Buffel Grass to limit habitat degradation. Only the Newhaven population is presently considered secure, and is reliant on active fire management to prevent declines (R. Paltridge pers. comm. 2017, Threatened Species Scientific Committee Conservation Advice). Levels of genetic divergence are thought sufficient to result in a risk of outbreeding depression should animals be translocated (Dennison et al. 2015), emphasizing the importance of preserving surviving subpopulations in situ.

Citation: Paltridge, R., Catt, G., Cowan, M., Gaikhorst, G., How, R., Zichy-Woinarski, J., Cogger, H. & Teale, R. 2018. Liopholis kintorei. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T7040A101743329. . Downloaded on 24 September 2018.
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