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Lizards Like Messy Gardens

November 10, 2011

Five-lined skink, North Carolina, (c) Ken Thomas

Nature isn’t neat and tidy. Walk into an undeveloped area, and plants grow haphazardly, dead trees and broken limbs stay in place, and leaf litter piles up. But if you look at most gardens, we’ve by and large imposed order on our land. Earlier this week I mentioned HSUS’s Urban Sanctuary Program; one of the requirements is to provide shelter for wildlife, which can be as simple as leaving a brush pile in place. One of the premises of such programs is that private land accounts for a large percentage of urbanized areas, and therefore steps that individual property owners or renters can take can really add up if many people participate.

A new study out of New Zealand, and recently published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning, demonstrated that lizards (in this case, the common skink, Oligosoma nigriplantare polychrome) are more abundant in so-called “messy gardens.” While the lizards’ occurrence was mostly related to “landscape-level features” (distance from rural land, native vegetation, presence of warming spots, etc.), garden “messiness” was also important. The authors postulate that there might be a greater human impact on neat gardens, both through the presence of people tramping around and the use of pesticides and other toxins that might harm lizards. In addition, as mentioned above, “messy” areas tend to provide necessary shelter from predators.

However, the authors warn that “Skinks and probably many other small species benefit from messy habitat, however cultural norms play a strong role in reinforcing traditional values of neatness among home owners, with the result that an apparent lack of care of disorderliness in gardens can be perceived as undesirable and socially unacceptable.”

Take home message: Relax a little and let nature take its course.

Check out Conservation Magazine’s write-up of the story, or take a look at the original:

van Heezik, Yolanda & Ludwig, Karin. In press. Proximity to source populations and untidy gardens predict occurrence of a small lizard in an urban area. Landscape and Urban Planning. Available online Nov. 1, 2011.

We have lizards in the DC area, too! The above picture is of a five-lined skink, a relatively common local lizard.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 20, 2012 4:38 am

    Yes, here’s to ‘messiness’! Good for encouraging habitat biodiversity!


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