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Journal of Thermal Biology
Vol. 52, 20
15, Pages: 14–23

Potential for thermal tolerance to mediate climate change effects on three members of a cool temperate lizard genus, Niveoscincus

Amanda J. Caldwell, Geoffrey M. While, Nicholas J. Beeton, Erik Wapstra

School of Biological Sciences, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania 7050, Australia.


Climatic changes are predicted to be greater in higher latitude and mountainous regions but species specific impacts are difficult to predict. This is partly due to inter-specific variance in the physiological traits which mediate environmental temperature effects at the organismal level. We examined variation in the critical thermal minimum (CTmin), critical thermal maximum (CTmax) and evaporative water loss rates (EWL) of a widespread lowland (Niveoscincus ocellatus) and two range restricted highland (N. microlepidotus and N. greeni) members of a cool temperate Tasmanian lizard genus. The widespread lowland species had significantly higher CTmin and CTmax and significantly lower EWL than both highland species. Implications of inter-specific variation in thermal tolerance for activity were examined under contemporary and future climate change scenarios. Instances of air temperatures below CTmin were predicted to decline in frequency for the widespread lowland and both highland species. Air temperatures of high altitude sites were not predicted to exceed the CTmax of either highland species throughout the 21st century. In contrast, the widespread lowland species is predicted to experience air temperatures in excess of CTmax on 1 or 2 days by three of six global circulation models from 2068–2096. To estimate climate change effects on activity we reran the thermal tolerance models using minimum and maximum temperatures selected for activity. A net gain in available activity time was predicted under climate change for all three species; while air temperatures were predicted to exceed maximum temperatures selected for activity with increasing frequency, the change was not as great as the predicted decline in air temperatures below minimum temperatures selected for activity. We hypothesise that the major effect of rising air temperatures under climate change is an increase in available activity period for both the widespread lowland and highland species. The consequences of a greater available activity period will depend on the extent to which changes in climate alters other related factors, such as the nature and level of competition between the respective species.

Keywords: Critical thermal limit; Evaporative water loss; Reptile; Climate change; Alpine species; Squamate.

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