High from the air, drones help survey sand lizard habitat

High from the air, drones help survey sand lizard habitat

Understanding the space use and habitat needs of animals is essential for effective species conservation. Small animals use small structures that are difficult to monitor. LIB researchers have now used drones in a study to depict these small structures in high-resolution habitat maps. The research team was able to show how important low blackberry bushes are for sand lizards in the Dellbrücker Heide in Cologne. The drone method can find application in nature conservation and landscape planning.

“What is their neighborhood or quarter for people is their home range for wild animals,” explains Dr. Dennis Rödder, curator of Herpetology section at the Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change (LIB) in Bonn. This area is familiar to them, it’s where they move around and it fulfills their ecological needs in their daily lives, from food to shelter. After exploring the surrounding area, the animals usually return to this area. Therefore, mapping the habitat in the home range can provide valuable insights into the spatial and structural needs of wildlife. Understanding these requirements is becoming increasingly important as human impacts alter landscapes. “We hope that our work will not only remain theoretical but will also find application in conservation and landscape planning,” explains Vic Clement, PhD student at the LIB.

Sand lizards and their home range are small, as are the structures in their habitat. High-resolution maps depicting individual bushes, grass, sand or trees are therefore required for monitoring. Drones provide a remedy here: from a low altitude, they take high-resolution images of the area so that individual structures can be easily distinguished. The LIB researchers now merged the observed home ranges of the animals studied with the detailed map and were thus able to examine the structure of the habitat within the boundaries of the home range and compare it with the surrounding area. Clement, Schluckebier, and Rödder demonstrated that sand lizards in the Dellbrücker Heide favor low brambles, while avoiding open sandy areas and high vegetation. Preferences for grass and other low bushes, on the other hand, vary from animal to animal.

“The sand lizard as a cultural successor is often a victim of disturbance, destruction, or fragmentation of its habitats by human activities. Compensatory and protective management could now be better formulated with our data,” also hopes Rieke Schluckebier, Master’s candidate in the Herpetology section of the LIB. In recent years, drones have increasingly proven to be a useful tool for answering ecological questions. This time-efficient method of surveying habitat structures can be of great benefit in the management of protected areas.


Clement, V.F., R. Schluckebier, & D. Rödder (2022). About lizards and unmanned aerial vehicles: assessing home range and habitat selection in Lacerta agilis. Salamandra, 58: 24–42.


On niches and ranges – how do animals respond to climate change?

…unfortunately only in german:

AUS UNSERER VORTRAGSREIHE DES KÖLNER ZOOS- gemütlich auf der heimischen Couch genießen: Di., 08.02.2022, 19:30 Uhr: „Von Nischen und Arealen – Wie reagieren Tiere auf den Klimawandel?“ Dr. Dennis Rödder, Forschungs-Museum Koenig – Offizielle Seite

Der menschengemachte Klimawandel hat bereits heute einen weltweit messbaren Einfluss auf die Biodiversität. Mögliche Effekte zeigen sich auf allen Ebenen, von zeitlichen Verschiebungen in der Phänologie der Arten bis hin zu Veränderungen in ihren Verbreitungsgebieten. Der Vortrag gibt einen Überblick darüber, was wir bislang beobachten konnten und was wir in Zukunft erwarten.

In the realm of fungi – a pathogen leads to mass death

Learn more about the history of emerging pathogens in amphibians in our recent podcast (in german). This time the Pandemia team is not dealing with a virus or a bacterium, but with a fungus: Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. This pathogen has led to a worldwide mass extinction of amphibians in the last few decades. Australian researcher Lee Berger tells how she discovered the pathogen in the 1990s and why it was initially ignored. Herpetologists Ben Scheele and Dennis Rödder explain how the fungus could spread and what that has to do with an early pregnancy test.

German-Vietnamese team examines the effects of climate change on threatened reptile species

As a result of the change in the global climate, the optimal distribution of terrestrial organisms is shifting, which has particularly serious consequences for species with only a small distribution area. Lichtenfelder’s tiger gecko (Goniurosaurus lichtenfelderi) only occurs in a few forested areas in the Vietnamese-Chinese border area. The species is listed as Vulnerable according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The team around Prof. Dr. Truong Quang Nguyen from Vietnam’s IEBR, Hanoi, and Prof. Dr. Thomas Ziegler from Cologne Zoo and the modeling specialist Dr. Dennis Rödder from the Museum Koenig in Bonn, both Germany, examined the potential distribution under different climatic conditions. Tiger gecko researcher Hai Ngoc Ngo, who is writing his doctoral thesis in Cologne University / Cologne Zoo, Germany, and the Cologne master’s student Laurenz Gewiss essentially contributed to the study as well.

The models have just been published in the journal Frontiers of Biogeography: the analyses showed that the distribution could shift to the north in the near future and shrink considerably or that the species could disappear completely by 2070 due to a lack of suitable habitats.

Lichtenfelder’s tiger gecko was only recently included in the CITES appendices due to the research results and the input of the German-Vietnamese cooperation team. In order to counteract complete extinction, this threatened gecko is also cared for and successfully reproduced in the North Vietnamese Melinh Station for Biodiversity and in the Cologne Zoo, Germany, as part of conservation breeding.

The current study also shows which forests in the previously unprotected Chinese-Vietnamese border area are given the highest priority as a retreat for this species and that cross-border conservation projects and protected areas need to be set up there.

Ngo, H. N., H. Q. Nguyen, T. Q. Phan, T. Q. Nguyen, L. R. Gewiss, D. Rödder and T. Ziegler (2022): Modeling the environmental refugia of the endangered Lichtenfelder’s Tiger Gecko (Goniurosaurus lichtenfelderi) towards implementation of transboundary conservation. – Frontiers of Biogeography 2022, 14.1, e51167. doi:10.21425/F5FBG51167 (PDF)

Photo credit: Prof. Dr. T. Ziegler



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