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Species extinctions happening before our eyes

Posted on 15 May 2010 by John Cook

In the past, research has predicted that global warming could lead to the extinction of more than one-fifth of animal and plant species. This research has largely been based on theoretical models. However, now observations can confirm whether reality matches theory. The paper Erosion of Lizard Diversity by Climate Change and Altered Thermal Niches (Sinervo 2010) compares global observations of lizard populations from 1975 to present day. The result? Rapidly warming temperatures are causing lizard species to go extinct before our eyes.

How does climate change affect lizard populations? While lizards bask in the morning sun to warm up, they retreat to the shade when temperatures get too hot to avoid heat stress. As it gets hotter, they have less time to forage for food. Warmer springs are particularly devastating as this is when lizards reproduce and need extra food.

Sinervo 2010 first analysed observations of lizard populations in Mexico. Since 1975 when observations began, 12% of local populations have gone extinct. Looking at weather station data, they found a correlation between the change in maximum temperature and local extinctions. The number of hours that lizards were forced to retreat to shade were significantly higher at extinction sites.

There are two ways species can compensate for climate change: adapt or migrate. Temperatures are changing too rapidly for most species to evolve in order to adapt to warmer temperatures. That leaves migration. What is being observed is species are relocating to cooler regions in response to warming temperatures. Lizard populations from lower elevations are expanding up to cooler, higher habitats. This appears to be exacerbating extinction of species already living in higher elevations.

Another important result they found is if we manage to reduce CO2 emissions over the next few decades, this will reduce the number of species extinctions in 2080 but have little effect on the extinctions by 2050. A slow down in global warming will lag atmospheric CO2 levels by decades. This lead the authors to conclude that lizards have already crossed a threshold for extinctions.

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Comments 51 to 83 out of 83:

  1. #50 Arkadiusz Semczyszak

    "In the nineteenth century, glaciers in the Alps were moving at a speed of (locally) up to 3-4 meters per day in one (...) destroying entire ecosystems."

    Statements like this would be more useful if you provided a cite, and some sort of context. Better formatting might also help to make your arguments more intelligible.

    As for your quote from Lonnie G. Thompson, it seems safe to say that Dr. Thompson draws very different conclusions from his life's work than you do.

    von Gunten et al. (2009)
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  2. Can anyone comment on why this article,Where Are The Corpses?, is not valid. It does not discuss reptiles and amphibians, but looks at birds and mammals.
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  3. Please do cite your sources Arkadiusz. I've spent a lot of time looking at close to a dozen paleo-climate reconstructions, & the range of warming over the Medieval Warm Period is usually the same-roughly +0.7 degrees (wrt 1961-1990 average) between 600 AD & 1200 AD (or delta T of +0.012 degrees/decade) & a cooling of 0.6 degrees between 1300 AD & 1600 AD, or -0.02 degrees per decade. Neither of these climate change events come even *close* to the warming of +0.12 degrees per decade that we've seen in the last 50 years, or the almost +0.16 degrees per decade we've seen in the last 30 years-especially when one considers the lack of forcings!
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  4. #52 nofreewind: In the abstract Eschenbach states

    "Very few continental birds or mammals are recorded as having gone extinct, and none have gone extinct from habitat reduction alone. No continental forest bird or mammal is recorded as having gone extinct from any cause."

    Having a look at the Australian government's list of extinct species, there are 27 mammals:

    Among them is the Crescent Nail-tail Wallaby, which inhabited woodlands.

    Among the extinct birds are the Rufous Bristlebird (western), South-western Rufous Bristlebird which lived in forests.

    I didn't get past the abstract. There is only so much WUWT I can take in one sitting.
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  5. # 50 Chris
    NOAA Paleoclimatology:
    "Imagine that over the course of a decade or two, the long, snowy winters of northern New England were replaced by the milder winters of a place like Washington, D.C. Or that a sharp decrease in rainfall turned the short-grass prairie of the western Great Plains into a desert landscape like you would see in Arizona. Changes of this sort would obviously have important impacts on humans, affecting the crops we grow, the availability of water, and our energy usage.

    These scenarios are not science fiction. Paleoclimate records indicate that climate changes of this size and speed have occurred at many times in the past. Past human civilizations were sometimes successful in adapting to the climate changes and at other times they were not.

    Because they occur relatively rapidly, these sorts of climate change are called abrupt climate change. Our understanding of past abrupt climate changes and their causes is still in its infancy; most of the research on this topic has been completed since the early 1990s. Scientists have made significant progress, however, in identifying and describing various abrupt events of the past and forming hypotheses about their causes. This paleo perspective will describe the evidence for past abrupt climate change and explore some of the possible causes." (2004,2008)

    - sorry for so long a quotation
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  6. and ...
    "... and continually hark back to 12 year old papers ..." - The UNEP Climate Change Science Compendium 2009, on page 5, first version ...
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  7. Quokka: >I didn't get past the abstract.
    the author stated that he didn't consider Australia a continent, but an island.
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  8. Quokka: >There is only so much WUWT I can take in one sitting.
    I could say the same about here, but I won't. This is the only blog that I would bother to read regarding the warmers point of view. Some of the science is over my head, but I appreciate and enjoy reading it never the less. But when I see the majority of you completely accept the premise that global warming in Mexico is making these lizards go locally extinct, what I can say but Oh Well, LOL. You mean, that a one to two degree change in temperature, from 92 to 94F say, is wiping out these lizards, I am supposed to believe that is the conclusion?? Sorry, but it just doesn't make any what I call, "common sense" to me. Could someone point me in the direction of the Mexico temperature data.
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  9. Nofreewind, the Science article that this post is about, is behind a paywall. But a huge number of libraries have that journal. If you're unwilling to get to a copy of the journal, you should at least listen to the radio interview I linked to in my earlier comment. As John explained in his post, the lizards can't forage sufficiently while they are sitting quietly in the shade. Also, they can't find mates.
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  10. nofreewind writes: This is the only blog that I would bother to read regarding the warmers point of view. Some of the science is over my head, but I appreciate and enjoy reading it never the less.

    I'm not sure what a "warmer" is. But if you like this site, you might also check out the thread about Science of Doom. I just added a comment that lists a few other useful and less well known climate science blogs.
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  11. With many of the speeches on abrupt climate change - short and long past - the survivors now living species (not only lizards) - I chose two, but one author:

    Richard Seager ...
    - "The Little Ice Age" (film): "In the early 14th century cooled off in just 10 years. The temperature was about 2 degrees lower than today. Change in solar activity was low and we need to find out why it had so great influence on the climate. "
    - in presentation to the New York Academy of Sciences: "These abrupt changes - the Dansgaard-Oeschger events of the last ice age and the Younger Dryas cold reversal of the last deglaciation - are well recorded in the Greenland ice core and Europe and involved changes in winter temperature of as much as thirty degrees C!"
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  12. nofreewind, you state that some of the science is over your head but also that you don't believe that "a one to two degree change in temperature, from 92 to 94F say, is wiping out these lizards" because it doesn't make "common sense" to you.
    This would suggest that the science behind this particular thread is not over your head, i.e. you understand it and have come to the decision that it is wrong. But when you also say it doesn't make 'common sense' to you, that suggests that your view isn't based on the science but on, rather, something else - this 'common sense'.
    Could you provide the science you have used to determine your view or state what the 'common sense' is ?
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  13. Thank you, Tom Dayton (#35) for the comprehensive and patient answer. I have also listened to the radio program, where they spent around 10 minutes on the problem, so I now have a much better understanding of the lizard problem.

    It seemed that, apart from endless presentations over and over again of all the titles of the professors present, most of the podcast was about other problems affecting flora and fauna than AGW, such as drought, urban development, and farming (whereas this site blames everything on CO2). Interesting aspects.

    Actually two listeners, calling, seemed to have interesting questions that promised to shed even more light on the topic of extinction, but they were cut off before they were allowed to get to the point (and falsely promised to be back after 'the break'). Disappointing practise!
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  14. Argus writes: [...] whereas this site blames everything on CO2 [...]

    Please let's be careful in our use of language. Yes, the article at the top of this thread focuses on climate change and doesn't discuss land use, invasive species, or other non-climate stresses on species. But I don't think anyone here is ignorant of or dismissive of the effects of those stresses. We mostly talk about climate change here because that's the subject of the website.

    Certainly, invasive species and land use change will exacerbate the problems of climate change for many species.
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  15. #58

    "Some of the science is over my head, but I appreciate and enjoy reading it never the less."

    When science is over my head, as it often is, I refrain from assuming that it's the scientists who are getting things wrong. I assume there's a failure of understanding on my part, not theirs.

    "Oh well LOL" isn't a coherent counterargument.

    "the author stated that he didn't consider Australia a continent, but an island."

    Australia is normally considered to be a continent, in both geological and geographical terms. The author you cite seems to calling it an island in order to discard inconvenient data. That should raise some red flags, I think.
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  16. #64 Ned,
    My apologies! I should have phrased my remark differently (or withheld it). My native language is not English, so maybe that made it come out even worse. But looking through the 100+ different topics or posts, I have a hard time finding one that is not based on the effects of an increasing percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere. But as you point out, that is the subject of this website (for which I am grateful).
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  17. Arkadiusz Semczyszak at 21:17 PM on 18 May, 2010

    Well now you're changing the subject. The examples you give are localized climate changes. No one disagrees that local climate changes like these can be large and quite fast, and no doubt these have had devastating effects on local populations, including extinctions.

    However your earlier post with its lazy snipe at Mann, that I responded to was about global/hemispheric (???; we don't know since you won't respond to a simple question about where your "data" is from) temperature variation during the last millenium and its comparison with modern global temperature change. It is the very rapid global scale temperature rise combined with additional human "insults" on the natural environment (especially habitat destruction/fragmentation) that is the concern. So going back to the paper at hand (Sinervo et al, 2010), the authors describe concurrent local extinctions of lizard populations across the 5 continents of the world, very likely in this case, due to global warming.
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  18. I can't see the whole article so I don't know so i'm asking.

    Why would lizards suddenly start dying in Mexico and no where else in the world? Lizards survived 10 million years of heat warmer than what is currently anywhere in the world.

    Did they do any studies on the habitat itself or on the food sources in the area...

    Also I find it interesting that despite their claims of temperatures being higher in the areas, the last few years have seen an incline in the Monarch Butterfly and the larvae only successfully grow to the butterfly stage in cooler temperatures.

    I'm not just sayin... just sayin ya know?
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  19. No problem, Argus. By the way, I had no idea English is not your first language -- you write better than many native speakers.
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  20. skepticstudent writes: Why would lizards suddenly start dying in Mexico and no where else in the world?

    They did a study of lizard populations in Mexico, and derived a model that can be used to predict lizard population dynamics in general.

    Then, they tested this model by comparing its predictions to field studies from all over the world:

    "The global generality of our model is verified by concordant distributions of current observed and predicted local extinctions of lizard biotas from four other continents (table S7). Our model pinpoints exact locations of two Liolaemid species going extinct in South America (Liolaemus lutzae, Phymaturus tenebrosus: {chi}2 = 32.1, P < 0.0001). In addition, the model predicts recent (2009) extinctions among 24 resurveyed populations of L. lutzae ({chi}2 = 8.8, P = 0.003). In Europe, our resurvey of Lacerta vivipara revealed 14 extinct sites out of 46 (30%), which are predicted quite precisely by the model ({chi}2 = 24.4, P < 0.001). In Australia, the model pinpoints 2009 extinctions of Liopholis slateri ({chi}2 = 17.8, P < 0.00001) and 2009 extinctions of Liopholis kintorei ({chi}2 = 3.93, P = 0.047). In Africa, analysis of Gerrhosauridae and Cordylidae at 165 sites predicts <1% extinctions, and yet the model pinpoints the single extinction reported by 2009 (exact P-value = 0.006). We temper this value with extinction projections of 23% for 2009 at Malagasy Gerrhosauridae sites, which is validated by the observed 21% levels of local extinction across several lizard families in Madagascar nature reserves (23)."

    Tables S7A, B, C, and D in the Supplementary Online Material provide all the details about these surveys. It looks like a pretty massive effort.
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  21. Ned, I can make a climate or any kind of model do what I want it to do.
    I want to know if they studied the habitat. Did they study the food of the lizards. Did they study if anything has changed other than weather or are they strictly using weather models? Like I mentioned earlier there have been larger than normal monarch butterfly escape into North America. The monarch butterfly only has large escapes during years where winter and spring weather is cooler than normal. So one tends to wonder about their comments about warmer climes wiping out a species locally or otherwise.
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    Are two newspaper article videos of species that have made fantastic comeback/adaptation to their surroundings despite massive changes in their surroundings.

    Now before any of you try to make the assertion that this doesn’t equate to Mexico think for a second. Suddenly a massive volcano blows up wiping out trees for hundreds of square miles. Clogging rivers with ash, trees, choking them with ash, and acid and other poisons.
    Mt St Helens did to the Tuttle valley what evolutionary scientist said took 10 billion years, in 3 days.
    There were trout and salmon back in the rivers and lakes in less than 3 years. There were birds, lizards, salamanders. Trees were gone, thus the ground temperatures were far far warmer than they had ever been before. I was up at Mt St Helens a short time after the blast. It was like a Nuclear bomb, no roughly about 380 Nagasaki bombs went off.
    To try and tell me that lizards are dying because of supposed recent changes in temperatures over a 20 + year period because they can’t “evolve” fast enough is nonsense. Animals adapt to living conditions quickly every day all over the world.
    I think this is a very very poor representation for the climate warming side.
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  23. Skepticstudent displays a common misunderstanding of what a model is:"I can make a climate or any kind of model do what I want it to do."

    No, you can't. A very simple mathematical model would be y=ax+b. This model will do what its maths impose and you can't make it do anyting else. If one designs that model in order to predict where to find y, and the position predicted by the model is not verified in reality, the model is wrong and has to go back to the drawing board. If its prediction is verified, then it is good.

    The model described in Ned's post seems to be extremely successful, and would in fact be a rather impressive achievement.
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  24. Slightly off-topic, but the unavailability of full-text papers is a sad impediment for amateurs such as most of us here when discussing findings such as this one.

    Before his remark was deep-sixed because he was unable to resist making some unfounded judgments, skepticalstudent referred to some missing temperature station data.

    Skepticalstudent, would you mind pointing us to an open copy of this paper's supporting materials, so we can take a look at what you're talking about? Thanks!
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  25. you're missing the point in each of your posts skepticalstudent:

    skepticstudent at 04:11 AM on 19 May, 2010

    Rather than "making the model do whatever" they "want", the model (which was something like: "based on our analyses of 200 sites in Mexico, here are a set of criteria by which we expect to find local habitats worldwide in which certain lizards will be stressed in relation to surviving Spring warming of such and such a degree"), was found to predict rather well the response of lizards in locations throughout 5 continents of the world

    In other words it seems to be a very good model for predicting how populations of certain species of lizard will fare in a warming world.

    skepticstudent at 04:20 AM on 19 May, 2010

    Mount St. Helens. Not a good analogy. Mount St. Helens was one volcanic eruption in one place. After the eruption the forces causing environmental destruction ceased. So the environment was bound to recover and no doubt populations outside the affected area are recolonizing.

    In the case of the lizards, the warming insult is not going to stop. The lizards will not be returning to those habitats. Moreover this is happenining not just at one locale as a result of a single perturbation, but is happening in 5 continents in response to a continuing and increasing global scale warming.
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  26. skepticstudent writes " the last few years have seen an incline in the Monarch Butterfly and the larvae only successfully grow to the butterfly stage in cooler temperatures."

    What is your source for this information? In fact, monarch butterfly populations are at an all-time low.
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  27. Seriously, lots of smart balanced people on this forum, but I would be embarrassed at myself If I was most of you. I know that Watts isn't held in high regard around here. But what makes more "common sense", that a .7-1C degree change in temperature, which is probably about .4C the past 35 years, has caused lizard extinction, OR that overzealous illegal collection of the lizards for the pet trade and lizard skin trade has decimated their population. We are talking lizards here, you know, those heat loving creatures that bask in the sun all day. You folks really "believe" that that the daytime temperature average going from 94.5 to 95.2 is wiping this lizards out? You never even gave any consideration to ANY other factors. Seriously, if I was a scientist and took this position, I would be embarrassed for being so easily deceived! How can we possibly trust you, when you are obviously wrong on such a simple matter. Do you also believe that polar bears are now practicing cannibalism, as I just read in my Audubon magazine. (note: a scientist said so!!)
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  28. nofreewind, argument from incredulity is a logical fallacy. It's far better to either point out an error in the paper or to suggest a specific alternative explanation that you think is better (which is what the post over at WUWT does ... it seems to suggest that poaching lizards for sale as pets is a more likely explanation for the observed local extinctions.)

    As noted above, the study involved developing a predictive model based on sites in Mexico, using the model to make predictions about lizard extinctions in other parts of the world, and then testing those predictions. This is how science is done.

    If Anthony Watts thinks that substituting "poaching" for "climate change" as an explanation would lead to better predictions (or to equally good predictions with a simpler model) then he should demonstrate that. He could well be right. But when the person you're criticizing has done a quantitative test of their predictions, and all you've done is handwaving ...
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  29. nofreewind, your comment is very simplistic, so perhaps you could expand on it a little by answering a few questions.

    Where do you get your ".7-1C degree change in temperature, which is probably about .4C in the past 35 years" from ?

    Where did you get your idea about lizards basking in the sun "all day" ? Do you know that the acquisition of vitamin D is as important in that respect and that lizards can overheat, as mentioned in the article above ?

    Where did you get the assertion of a "daytime temperature average going from 94.5 to 95.2" from ? It can't simply be a figure you've plucked out of thin air and added .7 to, can it ? Do you believe that temperatures all over the world will increase at the same rate ?

    What makes you think that the authors of the study didn't give any "consideration to ANY other factors" ?

    How do you know that scientists are "so obviously wrong" ? What evidence do you base that on ?

    Finally, the piece from Audubon magazine that I read online says "...there is a report from Hudson Bay of starving polar bears, stranded on shore and unable to hunt seals from the ice pack, resorting to cannibalism.".
    Why don't you believe that and which scientist do you believe actually said that ?
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  30. JMurphy writes: Where do you get your ".7-1C degree change in temperature, which is probably about .4C in the past 35 years" from ? [...] Where did you get the assertion of a "daytime temperature average going from 94.5 to 95.2" from ?

    If the "95.2" is in degrees celsius like the ".7-1C" range is, I think it's pretty clear why the lizards went extinct.

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  31. Ned wrote :

    If the "95.2" is in degrees celsius like the ".7-1C" range is, I think it's pretty clear why the lizards went extinct.

    Ah, well spotted.

    Over to you, nofreewind...
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  32. nofreewind...


    i was really curious to hear his come back... hmmm
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  33. nofreewind last posted on October 10th.

    His "rebuttal" on August 16th did not pass moderation, probably because it was lame and uninspired.

    Been running silent, running deep since...

    The Yooper
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