Erosion of Lizard Diversity by Climate Change and Altered Thermal Niches

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Science  14 May 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5980, pp. 894-899
DOI: 10.1126/science.1184695

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Demise of the Lizards

Despite pessimistic forecasts from recent studies examining the effects of global climate change on species, and observed extinctions in local geographic areas, there is little evidence so far of global-scale extinctions. Sinervo et al. (p. 894; see the Perspective by Huey et al.) find that extinctions resulting from climate change are currently reducing global lizard diversity. Climate records during the past century were synthesized with detailed surveys of Mexican species at 200 sites over the past 30 years. Temperature change has been so rapid in this region that rates of adaptation have not kept pace with climate change. The models were then extended to all families of lizards at >1000 sites across the globe, and suggest that climate change-induced extinctions are currently affecting worldwide lizard assemblages.


It is predicted that climate change will cause species extinctions and distributional shifts in coming decades, but data to validate these predictions are relatively scarce. Here, we compare recent and historical surveys for 48 Mexican lizard species at 200 sites. Since 1975, 12% of local populations have gone extinct. We verified physiological models of extinction risk with observed local extinctions and extended projections worldwide. Since 1975, we estimate that 4% of local populations have gone extinct worldwide, but by 2080 local extinctions are projected to reach 39% worldwide, and species extinctions may reach 20%. Global extinction projections were validated with local extinctions observed from 1975 to 2009 for regional biotas on four other continents, suggesting that lizards have already crossed a threshold for extinctions caused by climate change.

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