Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Climate Change Is Particularly Dangerous for Lizards

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Climate Change Is Particularly Dangerous for Lizards

Article excerpt

A warming world may be more dangerous for the world's thousands of lizard species than previously thought, new research suggests.

As cold-blooded animals, lizards rely on the external environment to regulate their internal temperature by rotating between sun and shade. That makes them particularly sensitive to climate change and a number of species and local populations of lizards have already gone extinct as a result.

Previous studies, however, may have underestimated just how susceptible lizards are to the changing climate.

A new study that incorporated the effects of shade availability on lizards suggests that global warming may be having a more dramatic effect on lizards and their ecosystems as the lizards spend more time and energy seeking out patches of shade to cool down in.

"The real fear is that previous research has underestimated the risk of extinction," Mike Angilletta, a professor at Arizona State University's School of Life Sciences and co-author of the study, said in a statement. "Most models assume that an animal can be anywhere in its environment at any time, which doesn't account for how much energy an animal spends to regulate its temperature. Animals have to move and search for shade, which makes cooling down more difficult when patches of shade are far apart."

The study looked at the strain and limitations that thermoregulation puts on lizards in an increasingly warm world.

To simulate this situation, the research team implanted temperature sensors into nine groups of spiny lizards and placed them in constructed enclosures in the New Mexico desert. Each enclosure had either one large patch of shade, four medium patches of shade, or 16 small patches of shade.

Lizards with more smaller patches of shade were able to regulate their body temperature much more successfully than those with one large patch, whose temperatures varied by as much as 12 percent. …

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