Who runs the world? Why lizards, of course. But their reign might be coming to an end, thanks to global warming.
A new study suggests global warming is an even bigger threat to Earth’s most divine creature than we previously thought. A 2010 study conducted at the University of Santa Cruz predicted 40% of our precious lizard population will be dead by 2080, meaning about 20% of all lizard species will go extinct. Lizards are disproportionately affected by global warming because they’re cold-blooded, which means they regulate their body temperature using their external environment.
The lead author of the latest study, Clemson University biologist Michael Sears, notes that the computer models in the 2010 study “[assume] the lizard can find a piece of shade anywhere in the environment instantly if it needed it,” which doesn’t take into account the fact that “it takes lizards energy and time to find shade”.
In Sears’s study, he and his team experimented with actual lizards to figure out how lizards maintain their optimal body temperature, and also used computer modelling.
The scientists investigated how the specific type of shade accessible to lizards impacted their capacity to properly regulate body temperature. Scientists lodged minuscule temperature sensors into dozens of spiny lizards — who are native to Texas and Oklahoma — and conducted controlled experiments in the New Mexico desert.
Sears and his team found that lizards had a much easier time regulating their body temperature when they were able to find lots of small patches of shade, as opposed to one big patch. NPR reports:
That means predicting the future for lizards as the climate changes will be more complicated than people thought, as each population may be significantly affected by its local distribution of plants and rocky outcroppings that can provide shade.
They also found that while lizards living in warm environments will likely suffer as the temperature increases, lizards living in cooler places might actually benefit from global warming. Sears explains:
Everything in between, all bets are kind of off now. Because what our study suggests is that how bushes are placed in an environment might really impact the lizards just as much as the temperature itself.
Now, there’s an even bigger impetus to stop global warming— we gotta save the lizzies, before it’s too late. [NPR]