Anthony Gilbert, a self-described “lizard boy,” started catching lizards when he was as young as five years old.
Now, as a fourth year doctoral student at Ohio University, Gilbert is among the first to show how climate change is affecting the vulnerable reptiles. Gilbert said he first became interested in the topic as an undergraduate student.
“I really wanted to just drive, lend my gusto and my effort towards this problem of trying to get more clarity, refine the understanding of how lizards are going to respond to climate change,” Gilbert said. “They’re some of the most vulnerable organisms across the planet.”
Last year, he worked with biological sciences professor Donald Miles in his study of how ornate tree lizards in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert respond to climate change. That research was published in this month's issue of Functional Ecology.
The study, which started in 2014 and ended the next year, looked at the compounding effects of temperature and food availability on how well lizards can perform, Gilbert said. The experiment showed that lizards were able to endure higher temperatures when they had access to more food, and were less likely to reach exhaustion when “racing."
Gilbert said the study suggests that in addition to the sensitivity of temperature, lizards' survival traits are also sensitive to other ecological changes, such as changes in food and prey availability.
“It was a little bit surreal to me back when (the study) was first released back in April to kind of have my name attached to a study that was really novel in what it did,” he added. “Nobody has really looked at the compounding effects of temperature and food availability.”
Miles explained these lizards were researched because in desert ecosystems they're abundant and are “the important intermediate species in terms of food webs.”
“This species is one of the most abundant species in the desert southwest,” he added. “If this species is susceptible to warming, and this (is) a common lizard, imagine other species that are facing similar threats. So this is kind of like a canary in the gold mine in a sense — a warning.”
Miles added that he has done other research on lizards across the globe documenting local extinctions, including lizards in France, South America, South Africa and Australia.
Jessica Oswald, a sophomore studying environmental pre-law, said the study is “pretty cool” and she thinks more people should see more of research because, even though they are just lizards, all organisms are connected.
“I think climate change is definitely a big issue for any type of species whether it's ... humans or any type of animal,”
Oswald said. “Even though we may not see the effects right now, we definitely will in the future.”
She added that she thinks people are either huge advocates for raising awareness for climate change or just don’t care at all.
“Climate change is going to affect this planet because we’re not alone in this threat,” Gilbert said. “There’s millions of species, billions of species worldwide that are going to feel the effects of climate change outside of how humans are gonna deal with it.”