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Lidar reveals the hottest properties for a Western Australian lizard

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A number of indicators point to the cooling of the real estate market. Interest rates are ticking up. Inventory is growing. Sellers are cutting prices. In Western Australia — one of the literally, if not figuratively, hottest housing markets — homeseekers such as the Western spiny-tailed skink (Egernia stokesii badia) appear to be increasingly selective about their housing options.

Habitat availability and choice are critical to these Aussie lizards because they are on the endangered species list. So, understanding their partiality toward more specialized habitat requirements is important to helping their species recover.

Available for immediate occupancy: wooden ‘castle’ with spacious, open floor plan, private access, and ample natural light. Ideal for discerning skinks. Some tolerance of lidar required.


Available for immediate occupancy: wooden ‘castle’ with spacious, open floor plan, private access, and ample natural light. Ideal for discerning skinks. Some tolerance of lidar required.

Luckily, lidar has come to the rescue. A group of researchers from Curtin University is using the technology to scan so-called wooden castles composed of the remains of fallen trees, or log piles, to identify the residential features that most appeal to multifamily skink households. The microhabitat requirements of lizards such as the skink are subtle and difficult to assess through visual inspection. Lidar offers a nondestructive and noninvasive method to gather 3D digital data to reveal the large and small differences that define the lizards’ preferences in habitat structure. Using lidar, the researchers were able to collect detailed high-resolution scans of 39 log piles — 22 of which were occupied — to better understand what the scaly critters liked about the dwellings.

Any skink will tell you that not all log pile sites are suitable for homemaking. As the researchers discovered, popular wooden castles typically averaged three logs, all on the longer, more capacious side, with ample crevasses of various dimensions to accommodate the taste for privacy of today’s upscale skink. The lizards were also captivated by a homey balance of overhanging vegetation, combined with reduced canopy cover to take advantage of sunny mornings while reserving the option to cool off in the afternoon shade. Although a shaded deck is an amenity, it shouldn’t provide a perch for winged neighbors — who may not be songbirds.

“This is the first time that lidar technology has been used in this way — to help characterize the microhabitat requirements of a particular threatened species,” said Holly Bradley, lead researcher on the project and a doctoral student from the School of Molecular and Life Sciences. “This will help us to identify areas and habitat structures that are important for protection, as well as showing us how to re-create the optimal wooden castles during landscape restoration to help safeguard the future for the Western spiny-tailed skink.”

Photonics Spectra
Aug 2022
Lighter Side

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