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Agonistic behavioural asymmetry in two species of montane lizard that exhibit elevational replacement

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 23:30 authored by Senior, AF, Chapple, DG, Atkins, ZS, Clemann, N, Gardner, MG, Geoffrey WhileGeoffrey While, Wong, BBM

Context: In montane systems, closely related species tend to segregate spatially along elevational gradients. The role of biotic interactions, relative to species physiological requirements, in maintaining these distribution patterns is an important question in spatial ecology. Theory suggests that the role of interspecific competition can be significant in the maintenance of elevation replacement distributions. Despite this, there has been limited work investigating factors beyond thermophysiology in determining ranges in temperate montane species.

Objectives and methods: We investigated agonistic (i.e. aggressive) behaviour in response to a simulated intruder (conspecific versus heterospecific 3D printed models) in two sister species of temperate montane lizard, Liopholis guthega and L. montana, from south-eastern Australia. The two species have similar thermal tolerances at an area of distributional overlap between 1600 and 1700 m above sea level, above which L. montana is replaced by the high elevation specialist L. guthega.

Results: We found that response to intruder stimuli differed between the two species, with the high elevation L. guthega actively biting both conspecific and heterospecific models, whereas the lower elevation L. montana, never attacked either model type. Our findings provide evidence of asymmetric agonistic response in the two montane reptile species.

Conclusions: These findings have important implications for understanding how biological interactions and behaviour, in addition to thermo-physiological data, might mediate landscape scale distribution patterns both now and as environments change in the future. More broadly, our results are not consistent with the widespread idea that low elevation species will inevitably ‘push’ higher elevation species out, as global warming erodes species’ thermal envelopes.


Australian Research Council


Publication title

Landscape Ecology








School of Natural Sciences


Kluwer Academic Publ

Place of publication

Van Godewijckstraat 30, Dordrecht, Netherlands, 3311 Gz

Rights statement

Copyright The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V. part of Springer Nature 2021

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences

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