Liolaemus nigriceps. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Lincoln) Enlarge

Mar. 6, 2013 — Climate change could see dozens of lizard species becoming extinct within the next 50 years, according to new research published today. The often one-directional evolutionary adaptation of certain lizard species' reproductive modes could see multiple extinctions as the global temperature increases.

Globally it has been observed that lizards with viviparous reproduction (retention of embryos within the mother's body) are being threatened by changing weather patterns. A new study suggests that the evolution of this mode of reproduction, which is thought to be a key successful adaptation, could, in fact, be the species' downfall under global warming.

Dr Daniel Pincheira-Donoso, from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln (UK), is the lead author of the paper detailing these amazing predictions, published today in the scientific journal Global Ecology and Biogeography.

Researchers, including academics from the University of Exeter, investigated the hypothesis that historical invasions of cold climates by Liolaemus lizards — one of the most diverse groups of vertebrates on earth — have only been possible due to their evolution to viviparity (live birth) from oviparity (laying eggs). Remarkably, once these species evolve viviparity, the process is mostly irreversible and they remain restricted to such cold climates.

By analysing this evolutionary transition in the lizards' reproductive modes and projecting the future impact of climate change, the scientists discovered that increasing temperatures in the species' historically cold habitats would result in their areas of distribution being significantly reduced. As a consequence, if global warming continues at the same rate, viviparous lizards are facing extinction in the next few decades.

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