Assessing sensitivity to climate change and drought variability of a sand dune endemic lizard

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Barrows, Cameron W., Rotenberry, John T., and Allen, Michael F.
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Bioclimatic models aimed assessing a species’ sensitivity to climate change incorporate mean shifts in climate variables; however the more acute threat to the persistence of species may result from increased frequency of extreme climatic events, including increased duration and severity of droughts. Here we assess climate-change sensitivity using niche modeling that unlike bioclimatic modeling incorporates both climate variables as well as other habitat features that constrain a species’ distribution. We analyzed the effects of potential increases in drought frequency for an endangered, sand dune-restricted lizard, a species restricted to a narrowly occurring substrate and so unable to move up-slope or pole-ward to track climate shifts. Our niche modeling results indicated only minor losses to the area of suitable niche space at lower levels of modeled climate change; at the most severe climate shifts we tested the area of suitable niche space reduced by slightly more than 50%. However, extrapolating the potential impacts of reduced rainfall on drought periodicity and intensity showed a more immediate and acute impact on the lizard’s populations. Drought duration projections coupled with landscape fragmentation resulted in rapid losses of suitable niche space, beginning in the more arid portion of the lizard’s range and extending into more moderate climate areas. Although there is greater uncertainty associated with the impacts of climate change on drought periodicity than with shifts in mean conditions, our results show a greater potential for droughts to negatively impact species’ resilience to such changes.


Barrows, C. W., J. T. Rotenberry, and M. F. Allen. 2010. Assessing sensitivity to climate change and drought variability of a sand dune endemic lizard. Biological Conservation 143:731–736.