Dozens of species could be doomed to extinction
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — Lizards that give birth to live young may be headed for a climatic cul-de-sac in the next 50 years, according to a new study by scientists with the University of Exeter and the University of Lincoln.
“Climate change must not be underestimated as a threat to modern patterns of biodiversity,” said University of Exeter biologist Dr. Dave Hodgson. “Our work shows that lizard species which birth live young instead of laying eggs are restricted to cold climates in South America … high in the Andes or towards the South Pole. As the climate warms, we predict that these special lizard species will be forced to move upwards and towards the pole, with an increased risk of extinction.”
The viviparous lizards — one of the most diverse groups of vertebrates on earth — have been able to adapt to cooler ecological niches, but their evolutionary adaptation means they remain restricted to cold climates.
By analysing this evolutionary transition in the lizards’ reproductive modes and projecting the future impact of climate change, the scientists discovered that increasing temperatures in the species’ historically cold habitats would result in their areas of distribution being significantly reduced. As a consequence, if global warming continues at the same rate, viviparous lizards are facing extinction in the next few decades.
“Lizards’ reproduction is largely linked to climatic temperatures and viviparous species are usually found in cold environments,” said lead author Dr. Daniel Pincheira-Donoso, with the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences.
“When reptiles initially moved to colder areas they needed to evolve emergency measures to succeed in these harsh places, and we believe viviparity is one of these key measures,” said Pincheira-Donoso, one of a few researchers who works on the ecology and evolution of these lizard species.
“However, this transition is mostly one-directional and unlikely to be reversed. Rapid changes in the environment’s temperature would demand rapid re-adaptations to secure the species’ survival. Through the research we found that over the next 50 years nearly half of the area where these species occur may disappear, causing multiple extinctions due to climate change.”
“These lizards are one of the most diverse groups of animals, and are able to adapt to remarkably diverse conditions. Unfortunately, a reduction in cold environments will reduce their areas of existence, which means that their successful evolutionary history may turn into a double-edged sword of adaptation. Their extinctions would be an atrocious loss to biodiversity,” he said.
The research is published in the peer-reviewed journal Global Ecology and Biogeography and was funded by the Leverhulme Trust.
Filed under: biodiversity, climate and weather, Environment, global warming Tagged: | biodiversity, climate change, endangered species, global warming, Lincoln University, lizards, University of Exeter