Niche and microhabitat selection of the eastern green lizard (Lacerta viridis) at the core and periphery of its distribution range
The available range of habitats and suitable abiotic conditions like temperature and radiation tends to be narrower toward the periphery of the distribution range of species. Peripheral populations of generalist species could then be more specialized and have a smaller and differentiated realized niche (habitat niche in our study) compared to populations at the core. Likewise, patterns of microhabitat selection can differ between periphery and core. In our study, we compared niche size and microhabitat selection among core (Bulgaria) and northern peripheral (Germany, Czech Republic)populations of Lacerta viridis and estimated niche differentiation among regions. We collected data on vegetation structure and abiotic parameters at the microhabitat scale in each region. In order to compare niche size among regions and estimate niche differentiation, we built multidimensional niche hypervolumes. We applied generalized linear mixed models and model averaging, accounting for spatial autocorrelation when necessary, to analyze microhabitat differences among regions and microhabitat selection in each region. Peripheral populations were more specialized, having a smaller niche than core ones, and their niche differed from that in the core (Sørensenoverlap in all comparisons <0.3). Microhabitats at the periphery had lower radiation and soil compaction and less structured vegetation. Microhabitat selection at the core depended solely on abiotic parameters, while at the periphery it was defined by only vegetation structure (Czech Republic) or a combination of both, vegetation structure, and abiotic factors (Germany). Thus, peripheral populations seem to compensate for overall harsher climatic conditions by responding to different parameters of the microhabitat compared to core populations. We suggest specific conservation measures for L. viridis in each studied region and point out the general implications of a higher specialization degree of peripheral populations in relation to climate change and habitat fragmentation.