Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Global warming data not enough to predict animal extinction, lizard study finds

Spatial distribution of shade needs to be factored into predictions, conservation
Date: September 6, 2016
Source: Clemson University

Current models used to predict the survival of species in a warming world might be off target, according to new research that enlisted the help of dozens of spiny lizards in the New Mexico desert.

Almost 40 percent of the world's populations of lizards are expected to become extinct by 2080, because Earth is warming faster than these populations can adapt.

But the new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, shows that, to make accurate predictions, these models must include much more data about how shade is distributed in an animal's habitat.

"This is a breakthrough paper," according to Raymond Huey, a professor emeritus of biology at the University of Washington. "Scientists studying climate warming will now be forced to evaluate the spatial distribution of sunny-shady patches, and not just compute the fraction of an area that is sunny or shady.

"Frankly, that makes our research lives much harder, but also much more interesting."

Even a small change in body temperature can dramatically affect an organism's well-being, like when a person's temperature rises one or two degrees. Reptiles, including lizards, regulate their body temperatures by moving between warm and cool areas within their home ranges.

It isn't just the relative proportion of warm and cool areas that affects how well a lizard can regulate its temperatures, Huey said, but also how they are distributed in space.

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