Weather-worn lizards might adapt to new climates

January 15, 2016
Credit: James Cook University

James Cook University scientists have found lizards exposed to rain, hail and shine may cope better with extreme weather events predicted as a result of climate change than their fair-weather cousins.

A new study by JCU PhD student Anna Pintor, published in the journal Ecological Monographs, is one of the first to test the Climatic Variability Hypothesis (CVH) - which proposes that animals living in environmentally variable areas should be able to tolerate more environmental fluctuations as a result.

This idea is a key assumption of the controversial Rapoport's Rule - which states that a species at higher latitudes with variable weather conditions leads to the evolution of wider environmental tolerances which leads to a requirement for a larger range size.

Ms Pintor, along with supervisors Professor Lin Schwarzkopf and Professor Andrew Krockenberger from the Centre for Tropical Biodiversity and Climate Change, used three groups of Australian skinks for their analysis.

Their results confirm, in all three groups, that species living in regions with greater temperature variability have both greater environmental tolerances and wider ranges - both in terms of latitude and altitude.

Andrew Krockenberger explains the importance of this result to advancing scientific thought "The literature is full of examples of species that do and don't fit Rapoport's rule," he said. "We've shown what is important is the actual underlying mechanism - that species that can deal with a high degree of variability at a single site also end up with more extensive geographic ranges.

"Arguing about whether or not Rapoport's rule is valid is irrelevant and misses the point - let's start making sure we understand the underlying process instead."

Lead author Anna Pintor said if we want to understand impacts of in the future, we need to know how species' current distributions come about it the first place.

"Understanding underlying mechanisms like the CVH is one way to do that, but we need to do a lot more before we can tell exactly how will be impacted and how to best help them deal with climate change."

Explore further: Changes in birds' ranges may greatly affect ecosystems

More information: Rapoport's Rule: Do climatic variability gradients shape rangeextent? Ecological Monographs, 85(4), 2015, pp. 643–659Ó2015.

Related Stories

Climate impacts on marine biodiversity

August 24, 2015

New research into the impact of climate change has found that warming oceans will cause profound changes in the global distribution of marine biodiversity.

Invasive species as junk food for predators

October 14, 2015

If there's an upshot to the appearance of invasive species, it's that they might provide an additional food source for the native animals whose territory they are invading.

Recommended for you

Whiskers help animals sense the direction of the wind

August 24, 2016

Many animals appear to have an impressive ability to follow the wind to find food, avoid predators, and connect with potential mates. Until now, however, no study had examined how land mammals know the direction of the wind. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.