Many natural processes in the riparian cottonwood (Populus deltoides) forest of the Middle Rio Grande (MRG) in the southwestern United States have been disrupted or altered, allowing non-native plants such as saltcedar (Tamarix spp.) and Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) to establish. We investigated reptilian responses to restoration efforts by sampling communities of lizards at 12 study sites invaded by non-native plants along the MRG in New Mexico for 7 years (2000-2006). Sites within three regions were randomly assigned to one of the three treatments to remove non-native plants and woody debris, or as untreated controls. We used pitfall and funnel traps to capture, mark, and release lizards from June to September. Principal components analysis of 15 vegetation variables identified five factors that best explained variation among sites before and after removal of non-native plants. Relative abundances for four of six common species of lizards were associated with vegetation characteristics that significantly changed after plant removal. Species were either positively associated with the more open, park-like understory found in treated sites or negatively associated with debris heaps and thickets of non-native plants found in untreated sites. Eastern fence lizards (Sceloporus consobrinus) and New Mexico whiptails (Aspidoscelis neomexicana) increased in relative abundance after non-native plants were removed. Overall, removal of non-native plants seems beneficial, or at least is non-damaging, to lizard communities of the MRG forest. Providing information on habitat associations of lizard communities will help land managers balance management objectives with other considerations, such as providing important wildlife habitat.
- Invasive/non-native species
- Riparian forest
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation