Weather-worn lizards more likely to survive climate change

Researchers hope their work will help scientists better understand how certain species develop ecological tolerances.
By Brooks Hays   |   Jan. 15, 2016 at 4:29 PM

CAIRNS, Australia, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- A new study found lizard species that deal with a diverse array of weather conditions are better equipped to handle climate change.

The conclusion is based on a concept known as the Rapoport's rule, which proposes the latitudinal ranges of plants and animals are larger at higher altitudes. The thinking goes that weather variability is greater at higher altitudes, and so species that thrive there are able to adapt to a wider range of ecological conditions.

The concept is controversial, but scientists at James Cook University say their analysis of Australian lizard species supports the theory.

In analyzing three groups of skinks, researchers found that species living in regions with greater temperature variability had wider ranges and showed an ability to tolerate a greater array of environmental conditions.

"The literature is full of examples of species that do and don't fit Rapoport's rule," Andrew Krockenberger, a researcher at the Centre for Tropical Biodiversity and Climate Change, said in a press release. "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," Krockenberger added.

Researchers published their findings on skinks and the Rapoport's rule in the journal Ecological Monographs.

Study authors hope their work will help scientists better understand both how certain species develop ecological tolerances and which species will be most affected by climate change.

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