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Study: Climate change could doom lizard population

May 13, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Global climate change could mean a grim future for one species in particular. According to new research from UC Santa Cruz released on Thursday, a warming planet is having a dramatic effect on lizards all over the world.

It takes a trained professional to get a normally fast moving lizard to pose for pictures on a rock, but in a lab at UC Santa Cruz, Elizabeth Bastians is one of them.

Bastians performs such lizard tricks because she knows the creatures and after her work in a paper published Thursday, the academic world also knows her. Her work looks at climate change modeling and portends bad news for lizards.

"The model predicts extinctions all around the world," said Bastians.

As many as 20 percent of the lizard species could become extinct by the year 2080.

The study came about through accident and observation. Bastians and her coworkers were interested in following up on some 30-year-old research in Mexico, but when they went down there expecting to find tons of lizards, they had disappeared.

"The model showed that the sites where there had been the greatest change in temperature, were the ones where the lizard had gone extinct," said Bastians.

Lizards are certainly not the first species responding to climate change, but because they have survived so long, it is significant. A change of one degree, centigrade, alters behaviors and tips balances.

"What the model shows is that when the lizards are forced to retreat to burrows for more than four hours a day... during the key reproductive months, that tends to make a population go extinct," said Bastians.

Or, to put it more simply, global warming is now hurting cold blooded creatures too.

"I can't imagine that if you remove that many members of a given link in a food chain, that it wouldn't have an effect," said Bastians.


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