Over the past several years, scientists have determined that lizards are one of climate change’s hardest-hit victims. Barry Sinervo, professor of evolutionary biology and ecology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has estimated that one-fifth of all lizard species could become extinct by the year 2080, assuming that current emission and climate trends continue.
It’s gloomy news for the lizards and other creatures negatively affected by global warming, but Sinervo has indicated that humans are not helpless in the face of change: by limiting carbon dioxide emissions that drive global temperatures upward, we can slow the disturbing trend of mass extinction.
However, some of the damage to the climate is irreversible, because no matter what humans do to improve the environment and curb the effects of global warming, it has been predicted that at least six percent of lizard species will inevitably become extinct by 2080 as a result of greenhouse gas already in the air.
Since lizards are cold-blooded, they lack the capacity to control their own body temperatures, and as a result they are forced to seek shade when the temperature becomes too hot. Spending more time in the shade leads to less time hunting for food, which, according to Sinervo, means that the lizards ultimately starve to death before they can lay eggs for the next generation.
Michael Sears of Clemson University proposed a theory more nuanced than Sinervo’s, but he ultimately reached a similar conclusion: lizards are in trouble as temperatures become warmer. He argued that the specific placement of shady spots in a lizard’s environment could mean the difference between life and death for the reptiles. Since the distribution of shady plants and rocks varies widely in different geographical areas, it is hard to determine exactly how the lizards will fare in the coming years.
But like Sinervo, Sears has shown that lizard species are more vulnerable now than ever before as the globe warms to record-high levels.