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«conservation advice on 12/12/2013 and included this species in the critically endangered category effective from 3/1/2014 Conservation Advice Emoia ...»

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The Minister approved this conservation advice on 12/12/2013 and included this species in the

critically endangered category effective from 3/1/2014

Conservation Advice

Emoia nativitatis

1. Name

Emoia nativitatis

The species is commonly known as the Christmas Island forest skink and is also referred to

as the Christmas Island whiptail-skink. It is in the Family Scincidae.

2. Reason for Conservation Assessment by the Committee

This advice follows assessment of information provided by a public nomination to list the forest skink. The nominator suggested listing in the critically endangered category of the list.

This is the Committee’s first consideration of the species under the EPBC Act.

3. Summary of Conclusion The Committee judges that the species has been demonstrated to have met sufficient elements of Criterion 1 to make it eligible for listing as critically endangered.

The Committee judges that the species has been demonstrated to have met sufficient elements of Criterion 2 to make it eligible for listing as critically endangered.

The Committee judges that the species has been demonstrated to have met sufficient elements of Criterion 3 to make it eligible for listing as endangered.

The Committee judges that the subspecies has been demonstrated to have met sufficient elements of Criterion 4 to make it eligible for listing as vulnerable.

The highest category for which the species is eligible to be listed is critically endangered.

4. Taxonomy The species is conventionally accepted as Emoia nativitatis (Boulenger, 1887).

5. Description Emoia nativitatis (forest skink) is a moderately robust (80 mm snout-vent length, 10g) skink.

The species is a rich metallic-brown colour, paler on flanks, with numerous irregularlyscattered paler and darker scales. It differs from E. atrocostata (coastal skink) in scalation and colour (the latter having silvery-grey ground colour and a diffuse dark lateral stripe) (Boulenger, 1887).

6. National Context The forest skink is endemic to the 135km2 Australian external territory of Christmas Island and formerly occurred across most of the Island (Cogger and Sadlier, 1981). During the 2009 ‘Island Wide Survey (IWS)’ monitoring program by Christmas Island National Park (CINP), the species was not recorded at any of the 900 comprehensively spread sample sites (Director of National Parks, 2012).

Since 2009, a captive population of this species has been established in holding cages on Christmas Island. The captive population consists of one individual (Director of National Parks, pers. comm., 2013). The forest skink was seen in 2010 at Egeria Point (Smith et al., 2012).

Emoia nativitatis was listed as critically endangered on the IUCN red list in 2012.

Emoia nativitatis (forest skink) Draft Conservation Advice Page 1 of 9

7. Relevant Biology/Ecology The forest skink has been known to occur in the litter of the forest floor and also climbing on low vegetation and amongst the buttress roots of rainforest trees, whilst foraging. The species previously appeared to be as abundant on the plateau as it was on the terraces and the low forest backing onto the rocky coastline (Cogger and Sadlier, 1981). It is suggested individuals move over an area of only tens of metres (Director of National Parks, 2012).

The forest skink occurs solitarily, but historic records suggest that in suitable habitat (forest clearings and forest areas where the sunlight penetrates the canopy), it may occur locally in “large numbers” (Cogger and Sadlier, 1981). In June 1998, more than 80 individuals of this species were seen basking and foraging on the trunk of a large tree, which had recently fallen across an access track south of Aldrich Hill (Cogger and Sadlier, 2000).

The species’ diet includes a wide range of small terrestrial invertebrates (Cogger and Sadlier, 1981). The availability of food varies according to the season, the wet season being the most abundant. In areas where yellow crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes) supercolonies exist, food availability for the forest skink is markedly reduced. The species is diurnal and actively forages on the ground and in low vegetation (Director of National Parks, 2012).

The species is readily distinguished from other Emoia species occurring on Christmas Island however, it is not particularly conspicuous and may be relatively hard to detect. During sunny periods there is a higher chance of detecting the forest skink (Director of National Parks, 2012).

Although there is no reproductive information for the forest skink, a similar species, E.

atrocostata, attains sexual maturity between nine and nine and a half months of age and lives for between 3 and 10 years (Alcala and Brown, 1967).

8. Description of Threats A number of potential and actual threats have been identified as contributing to the decline of the forest skink, however, there is no quantitative evidence apportioning the relative impacts of threatening processes directly to the species’ decline (Smith et al., 2012). It is possible that predation from introduced exotic species, changes in suitable habitat, disease and competition from introduced exotic species and phosphate mining may be threats to the species (Director of National Parks, 2012).





Predation by one or more exotic species is considered the most likely cause of decline of the forest skink and would probably include the Asian wolf snake (Lycodon capucinus), giant centipede (Scolopendra subspinipes) and the yellow crazy ant. Over the period of the decline of the forest skink, the Asian wolf snake and the giant centipede have both increased in distribution and abundance. The Asian wolf snake has spread across the island since its introduction in 1987, with other reptiles (including their eggs) being a major part of this species’ diet (Director of National Parks, 2012). Although there is no single factor which links to the forest skink’s decline, the most substantial evidence of predation is from dietary studies of centipedes and wolf snakes that confirm predation on lizards (Rumpff, 1992;

Donnellan et al., 2011). Direct mortality by the yellow crazy ant is also likely but not confirmed (Director of National Parks, 2012).

The forest skink is largely restricted to the forest floor litter, but will climb on low vegetation and among the buttress roots of rainforest trees when foraging (Cogger and Sadlier, 1981).

This habitat has undergone broad-scale ecological change associated with outbreaks of yellow crazy ants over the last few decades. These outbreaks have caused a reduction in the Island’s endemic red crab population, which has resulted in an increase in the cover of understorey and ground litter, potentially leading to an increase in the abundance of some exotic species that predate on forest skinks (Director of National Parks, 2012).

Disease and competition associated with the introduction and spread of exotic reptile species are potential threats to the species, however, evidence suggests that it is unlikely that Emoia nativitatis (forest skink) Draft Conservation Advice Page 2 of 9 disease is a major issue on the island and therefore would not be a primary cause of decline (Smith et al,. 2012).

Since the 1890s, land clearing for activities such as phosphate mining, development and road construction has caused the incremental loss of approximately 25 per cent of forest cover on Christmas Island. This land clearing has left substantially less suitable habitat available for the forest skink, but is not likely to have been the trigger or primary cause of the rapid decline, which has occurred across the species’ full range since the 1979 surveys (Director of National Parks, 2012).

9. Public Consultation In accordance with the statutory obligation, the nomination was made available for public comment for at least 30 business days between December 2012 and January 2013. Any comments received that are relevant to the survival of the species have been considered by the Committee.

10. How judged by the Committee in relation to the criteria of the EPBC Act and Regulations The Committee judges that the species is eligible for listing as critically endangered under

the EPBC Act. The assessment against the criteria is as follows:

Criterion 1: It has undergone, is suspected to have undergone or is likely to undergo in the immediate future a very severe, severe or substantial reduction in numbers The forest skink is endemic to Christmas Island and the population has undergone a very severe reduction in population size since 1979. Although numbers were not recorded in the 1979 survey, it was reported to be the most abundant and widespread of the diurnal lizards (Cogger and Sadlier, 1981). As per figure 1 below, the 1979 survey data show the species was found to be present at 16 sites across the Island. In 1998 survey data, the forest skink was found at 13 sites (Schulz and Barker, 2008).

Figure 1: Map of Christmas Island with records for Emoia nativitatis (Schulz and Barker, 2008).

Monitoring between 2003 and 2005, which sampled 320 sites across the Island, reported the forest skink to have “declined severely” and was likely to be confined to scattered, localised Emoia nativitatis (forest skink) Draft Conservation Advice Page 3 of 9 pockets in more remote areas of the coastal terraces and first inland cliff (Director of National Parks, 2008). Further decline was evident in the 2008 targeted searches, which reported the species from only one remaining site (Schulz and Barker, 2008). Surveys were undertaken in 2009 and 2011 which showed no record of the forest skink from any of the 900 sampled sites (Director of National Parks, 2012). The forest skink was last seen in August 2010 at Egeria Point (Smith et al., 2012).

The Committee considers the forest skink has undergone a very severe reduction in numbers and therefore, the species has been demonstrated to have met the relevant elements of Criterion 1, making it eligible for listing as critically endangered.

Criterion 2: Its geographic distribution is precarious for the survival of the species and is very restricted, restricted or limited The current extent of occurrence of the forest skink is uncertain. The maximum possible extent of occurrence is 135 km2, which the Committee considers to be restricted. The 1979 survey describes the species as being ‘abundant and widespread’ (Cogger and Sadlier, 1981). The 2009 and 2011 surveys report no sightings of the forest skink (Director of National Parks, 2012), which suggests there has been a very severe decline in the extent of occurrence for the species. The species was last seen in August 2010 (Smith et al., 2012).

Similarly, the species’ area of occupancy is uncertain, however, it is now most likely to be less than 10km2 (Director of National Parks, 2012), which the Committee considers very restricted.

The species’ geographic distribution is unknown, however, the forest skink was reported from only one of the 35 sites sampled in 2008 (Schulz and Barker, 2008), and not recorded at any of the 900 sites sampled in 2009 or 2011 surveys. It is not known if current populations are isolated, although it is possible that changes to the habitat due to increased ground cover and understorey vegetation may have further alienated the forest skink from areas previously occupied and remaining populations may be severely fragmented (Director of National Parks, 2012). Given the potential threatening processes believed to be impacting the species, the extent of occurrence, area of occupancy, quality of habitat, number of mature individuals and number of locations of the forest skink is likely to continue to decline in the future. As such, the Committee considers the geographic distribution to be precarious for the survival of the forest skink.

Given the above, the Committee considers the species’ geographic distribution to be very restricted and precarious for its survival. Therefore, the species has been demonstrated to have met the relevant elements of Criterion 2, making it eligible for listing as critically endangered.

–  –  –

The total adult population size of the forest skink was considered in 2008 to be likely to be substantially fewer than 1000 (Director of National Parks, 2012), with the species reported from only one site (Egeria Point) during a survey at that time (Schulz and Barker, 2008). In 2009 and 2011 the species was not recorded during the Island Wide Survey monitoring program from any of the 900 sample sites across the Island (Director of National Parks, 2012). On the advice of the Christmas Island Reptile Advisory Panel, extensive diurnal and nocturnal surveys were undertaken during 2012 where the species was not detected. The last confirmed sighting of the forest skink was at Egeria Point in August 2010 (Smith et al., 2012).

–  –  –

The Committee also considers the species’ geographic distribution to be precarious for the survival of the species based on a considerable decrease in the estimated extent of occurrence and area of occupancy and the threats continuing to operate on the forest skink.

Therefore, the species has been demonstrated to have met the relevant elements of Criterion 3 to make it eligible for listing as endangered.

Criterion 4: The estimated total number of mature individuals is extremely low, very low or low The total number of mature individuals of the forest skink in the wild is likely to be substantially less than 1000 individuals (Director of National Parks, 2012), which the Committee considers low.

Since 2009 a captive population of one individual has been established on Christmas Island (Director of National Parks, 2013). The species has therefore been demonstrated to have met the relevant elements of Criterion 4 to make it eligible for listing as vulnerable.

–  –  –

There are no data available to estimate a probability of extinction of the species in the wild over a relevant timeframe. As the species has not been demonstrated to have met the required elements of Criterion 5, it is not eligible for listing in any category under this criterion.

11. Conservation Status Conclusion The forest skink was nominated for inclusion in the list of threatened species referred to in section 178 of the EPBC Act. The nomination suggested listing in the critically endangered category of the list.



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