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The common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) is Ireland’s only native reptile and as such is a key part of the island’s biodiversity.
However, there is a general paucity of distributional and abundance data for lizards in Ireland with a common feature of previous studies being a notable lack of data for Northern Ireland.
Incidental records of lizard sightings were collated to define the known range of the species and a landscape favourability model employed to quantify the species’ habitat associations. Predicted habitat suitability was used to evaluate the species’ conservation status based on the distribution of its maximum potential range and the degree of fragmentation of remaining suitable habitat.
Lizards were found to be widespread in Northern Ireland with sightings from every county. In common with previous studies from the Republic of Ireland, sightings were highly clustered indicating under-recording, observer bias and fragmentation of suitable habitat.
A total of 98 high resolution records were collated from 1905 to 2009. The species was recorded in 68 (ca. 26%) of 185 x 10km grid squares. The majority of sightings were recorded during summer (June-August).
Lizard occurrence was strongly and positively associated with landscapes dominated by heathland, bog and coniferous forest as well as coastal habitats and was positively associated with Shannon’s Diversity Index.
Lizard distribution was likely to have declined during the 19th and 20th centuries due to conversion of suitable lowland habitats to agriculture.
Large contiguous populations are likely to remain in the uplands (see Map), but remaining lowland populations are almost certainly small, isolated and highly fragmented. Inbreeding and reduced heterozygosity may therefore be of some conservation concern.
In Northern Ireland, upland heath and coastal dunes are of major conservation concern and are under continued threat of destruction. Establishment of an ecological network to preserve connectivity of remaining heath and bog will not only benefit remaining populations of common lizard but biodiversity in general.