Lizard Extinction Looms As Climate Change Worsens

lizard extinction may be caused by global warming

In 50 years, dozens of species of lizards may be extinct, said a report today from the UK’s University of Lincoln. Dr Daniel Pincheira-Donoso, the lead researcher for the paper in Global Ecology and Biogeography, said that a large group of unusual lizards is threatened by climate change.

The team investigated the Liolaemus genus of lizards, which Wikipedia described as a South American group similar to the iguanas with 225 described species. There could be an equal number of species not yet described and named by science.

The Liolaemus lizards are extremely adaptable and can b seen even at high altitudes in the Andes mountains. In fact, the researchers believe that they evolved to bear live young, instead of laying eggs, because it made them more successful when competing against other lizards in tough environments.

Another researcher associated with the report, Dave Hodgson, from the UK’s University of Exeter, was quoted in Science Daily:

“Our work shows that lizard species which birth live young instead of laying eggs are restricted to cold climates in South America: high in the Andes or towards the South Pole. As the climate warms, we predict that these special lizard species will be forced to move upwards and towards the pole, with an increased risk of extinction.”

The one-two punch of habitat loss in South America, coupled with climate change which warms the cool weather loving lizards’ habitat, could leave them with nowhere to go.

And it gets worse. Michael D. Lemonick for Time reported on an earlier study which said that the worldwide lizard population is at risk for extinction, not just one unusual group of live-bearing lizards in South America. He said that lizard populations are crashing, threatening extinction of many lizard species on five continents. He warned:

“Based on these extinction patterns — and the current rate of global warming — scientists predict that by 2080 nearly 40% of all lizard populations and 20% of lizard species could vanish.”

It was bad enough when it was just the frogs. William Booth published an account last December in the UK’s The Independent about the last-ditch effort to save those herptiles. He wrote:

“In what may be the greatest disease-driven loss of biodiversity in recorded history, hundreds of frog species around the world are facing extinction.” Most of the frogs are being wiped out by a fungus, which has ravaged Central America in particular. Panama’s golden toad hasn’t been recorded since 2008, and Costa Rica’s golden toad suddenly vanished in 1989.

Is it possible that, like the frogs, the rarest and most interesting lizards will be claimed by mass extinction?

[chameleon in Madagascar photo courtesy Elaine Radford]