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Between a rock and a hard place: Comparing rock-dwelling animal prevalence across abandoned paddy, orchards, and rock outcrops in a biodiversity hotspot

Cite this dataset

Jithin, Vijayan et al. (2023). Between a rock and a hard place: Comparing rock-dwelling animal prevalence across abandoned paddy, orchards, and rock outcrops in a biodiversity hotspot [Dataset]. Dryad. https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.4j0zpc8j4

Abstract

Rock outcrops are geologically and ecologically unique ecosystems that harbour threatened and endemic biodiversity. These underappreciated, open ecosystems are undergoing rapid land-use changes, and the impacts of these changes on the threatened and endemic biodiversity are poorly understood, compared to the forested ecosystems. The unprotected, low-elevation lateritic plateaus of the northern Western Ghats of India are a case in point; they have high levels of endemism but are experiencing agricultural land-use change to orchards on the one hand and abandonment of traditional paddy cultivation on the other. We compared 1) the availability of loose rocks, a critical microhabitat for saxicolous animals, 2) the prevalence of an endemic caecilian (Gegeneophis seschachari), an endemic gecko (Hemidactylus albofasciatus), and a widespread snake (Echis carinatus), and 3) the composition and abundance of other rock-dwelling animals across 12 less-disturbed natural rock outcrop sites and 10 sites each in agroforestry plantations and abandoned paddies using time-constrained searches. By surveying 7179 surface rocks, we encountered 5738 individuals from 38 animal taxa. We found that the abundance of large rocks, which were the most-preferred size class of rocks by animals, was higher in abandoned paddy compared to plateaus and orchards. However, the prevalence of the reptiles H. albofasciatus and E. carinatus was highest on undisturbed plateaus. Contrastingly, the prevalence of G. seshachari, a caecilian, was significantly higher under rocks in abandoned paddy than in less-disturbed plateaus or orchards. We also found significant differences between the rock-dwelling faunal assemblages across the three agricultural land-use types. Despite being adapted to persist in extremely variable climates on lateritic plateaus, multiple species/groups are vulnerable to land-use changes. However, G. seshachari and a few other taxa appear to benefit from certain kinds of agricultural land-use change, highlighting the context-specificity in species responses. This is one of the first studies to determine the impacts of the agricultural conversion of rock outcrops, thereby highlighting the conservation value of habitats that are often classified as wastelands.

Methods

The detailed methodology is explained in the manuscript. The data was collected as part of a larger project in the low-level lateritic plateaus of Ratnagiri, in the Konkan region of Maharashtra state in west India. We conducted fieldwork during June-September 2022. In this dataset, we provide information on rock-dwelling animals recorded under the loose rocks in three different land-use classes; i.e. less-disturbed lateritic plateaus, abandoned paddy, and orchards. The number of animals recorded under each rock, the size class of the rock, and survey details are provided. One-hour time-constrained searches were conducted at 32 sites spread across 11 unique plateaus. All individual animals (including the three focal animals) were counted, except in the case of ants (Formicidae), termites (Termitoidae), and mites (Acariformes) as they occurred in very high numbers making it difficult to count the exact number of individuals. See the manuscript for more details. 

Usage notes

Use the dataset "Jithin et al_Raw_Data.csv" to conduct the analysis described in the code "Jithin et al_Code.R" (available from Zenodo; see the software section of this dataset) to reproduce the analyses in Jithin et al. (2023) – Between a rock and a hard place: Comparing rock-dwelling animal prevalence across abandoned paddy, orchards, and rock outcrops in a biodiversity hotspot.

A README file has been provided that gives additional details of the study. 

Funding

On the Edge

The Bombay Environmental Action Group

The Habitat Trust