Brazilian central Cerrado lizards in introduced Eucalyptus plantations : human mediated habitat disturbance effects from community diversity to population divergence



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Approximately two thirds of the world’s land is directly supporting human population contributing to an accumulation of disturbed habitats. This dissertation investigates the impact of human mediated habitat disturbance, in introduced Eucalyptus plantations, on community diversity and population divergence using Brazilian Cerrado lizards as a model. Data was collected along a gradient from undisturbed cerrado to disturbed Eucalyptus plantations. Community diversity differences and indicator species were identified. Furthermore, the role of phenotypic divergences were determined based on populations able to persist in disturbed habitats. Dispersal, food availability (body condition), competition and predation (caudal autotomy) were tested as potential mechanisms driving phenotypic divergences. Additionally, I investigated phylogenetic community structure differences between habitats to test for a phylogenetic signal to disturbance. The evidence showed community diversity indices were significantly lower in Eucalyptus plantations with a decrease along the cerrado– Eucalyptus gradient. Furthermore, 29 % of the Cerrado species suffered local extinctions in the disturbed habitat and of these 80 % are endemic species. One indicator species was identified for the disturbed habitat and seven species were identified for the undisturbed habitat. Species able to persist in both habitats demonstrated morphological trait divergences. These species showed short dispersal distances with only two individuals dispersing between habitats indicating a mechanism driving the observed phenotypic divergences. Another mechanism is body condition, which was higher in the disturbed habitats, reflecting increased food availability possibly due to the decreased abundances. Caudal autotomy showed no difference between the habitats indicating that competition and predation are not driving phenotypic divergences. Phylogenetic community structure demonstrated a phylogenetic signal to disturbance. The undisturbed habitat consists of communities with more closely related species compared to the disturbed habitat: indicating evolutionary forces such as habitat filtering as the stronger process structuring these communities. Whereas, disturbed communities are structured by ecological forces such as competition. This research provides information for the preservation and maintenance of the Cerrado biodiversity and has an even broader impact since habitat change caused by human activities touches a plethora of ecosystems.