It seems like we learn something new every day about how climate change is wreaking havoc on our planet.
And here today’s statistic, one that will make you sit up in your chair: A staggering 40 percent of the planet’s lizard populations will be extinct by 2080.
Why? Because as global temperatures rise each year, these scaly critters are struggling to adapt their bodies’ thermoregulatory processes to the new climate reality.
What’s more troubling is that a recent study examining thermoregulation in spiny lizards in New Mexico has uncovered just how imprecise current scientific models are when predicting how well a species will fair in a warming world.
“If we really want to understand how populations of organisms will respond to climate change, we can’t use a simple, back-of-the-envelope method,” explains Mike Sears, a professor of biology at Clemson University and co-author of the study. “We need to think on a finer scale than we have been.”
In the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, a team of scientists evaluate how much energy is required of spiny lizards to move in and out of patches of sun and shade.
“Most models assume that an animal can be anywhere in its environment at any time, which doesn’t account for how much energy an animal spends to regulate its temperature,” Mike Angilletta, a professor at Arizona State University and co-author of the study, said. “Animals have to move and search for shade, which makes cooling down more difficult when patches of shade are far apart.”
You can read all about the study on the Arizona State University blog, but essentially what these researchers found was the efficiency of the lizards’ thermoregulation is largely dependent on the availability and frequency of distinct shady spots.
Raymond Huey, a professor emeritus of biology at the University of Washington, is calling the paper a breakthrough: “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.”
While spiny lizards are not critically endangered, it’s important to note that there are plenty of other forces — from invasive predators to habitat destruction — that are stacked against the world’s reptilian creatures. Continue below to see five incredible lizards that we may soon lose if nothing is done to halt their demise.