The use of lizards as model organisms in ecological studies is based on their success in occupying a great diversity of habitats, and some species are closely tied to the environment, which is disadvantaged by the legislation of several countries concerning land use. Our aim was to relate lizard species distribution patterns in rainforest environments to variation in environmental gradients, and provide ecologically based metrics for establishing buffer zones around streams. Lizards were sampled three times in 41 standardised transects near Manaus, Brazil, only in dry season, with Time Limited Visual Search associated with raking through leaf litter. We recorded 20 species from 10 families and used non‐metric multidimensional scaling to reduce the dimensionality of quantitative and qualitative compositions of species. Multiple linear regression models indicated that the environmental gradients distance to nearest stream, extent of canopy openness, vegetation density and slope did not significantly influence assemblage species distribution, with an indication of effect of litter depth. By means of piecewise linear regression, the use of riparian zone was estimated at ~190 m from quantitative species composition and ~211 m from qualitative species composition. Five species occurred only in the riparian zone. Our results suggest that conservation of the entire riparian lizard assemblage in Amazonian rainforest is likely to require protection of at least a 211 m buffer on either side of streams.