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Study: Global warming will shrink habitats

ANN ARBOR, Mich., Dec. 10 (UPI) -- A study of reptile extinctions in ancient Greece may offer clues to how plants and animals will respond to global warming, researchers say.

U.S. scientists say as the climate warmed at the end of the last ice age, sea levels rose and formed scores of Aegean islands that had formerly been part of the Greek mainland. Many reptiles perished on the ever-smaller islands, ScienceDaily.com reported Friday.

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Ecologist Johannes Foufopoulos of the University of Michigan and his colleagues, studying extinction rates of 35 reptile species from 87 Greek islands in the northeast Mediterranean Sea, found a striking pattern to the island extinctions. In most cases, they said, reptile populations disappeared on the smallest islands first -- the places where the habitat choices were most limited.

Especially prone to extinction were "habitat specialist" reptiles that needed a narrow range of environmental conditions to survive, they said.

The researchers predict a similar pattern of extinctions will emerge at various spots across the globe as the climate warms in the coming decades and centuries, forcing plants and animals to traverse an increasingly fragmented natural landscape.

"The widespread fragmentation of natural habitats greatly exacerbates the effects of climate change and undermines the ability of species to adapt to the new conditions," Foufopoulos said. "The lessons learned from the wave of reptile extinctions suggest that if species are to survive the global climate shift already underway, not only do humans have to set significantly more land aside for conservation, but these protected areas will also need to be connected through a network of habitat corridors that allow species migration."

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