Most plants and animals have a limited range of environmental conditions under which they can thrive. Climate change is expected to alter environmental factors such as precipitation and temperature across the world, which may significantly affect the suitability of habitats for many organisms. The persistence of species will therefore rely on both the existence of stable habitats where they can continue to live, as well as species’ ability to shift their home ranges with changing conditions.
Two new studies examine how climate change will affect habitat suitability for species of reptiles. Studying the common Cunningham’s skink (Egernia cunninghami) in Australia, Ofori et al. use species distribution modeling to look at how four possible climate change scenarios will affect the amount of suitable habitat available to skinks, and how their dispersal behavior and habitat connectivity will impact their ability to access habitat. Worryingly, the authors find that suitable habitat for the skinks will decline by 23-63% overall by 2070, and that limits to the dispersal ability of skinks may mean that they will not be able to track climate change at the edges of their range.
Caten et al. use ecological niche modeling to examine the changing suitability of protected areas in Brazil for a rare and threatened coral snake, Micrurus brasiliensis, and find that these coral snakes will face a dramatic decrease in climatically suitable habitat. With a predicted 60% reduction in suitable habitat, the authors predict that M. brasiliensis will likely experience a large contraction of their current range. Further, there will be a displacement of suitable habitat towards eastern Brazil. Using these predictions, the authors identify several protected areas that will be climatically suitable for coral snakes in the future, and suggest conservation measures such as creating habitat
corridors and increasing the amount of protected habitat for these threatened snakes.
Though these studies only examine two species of reptiles, there is mounting evidence that many species will experience similar shifts in suitable habitat and range contractions under climate change. Habitat loss and fragmentation make these problems even worse, by reducing the amount of habitat in stable or climatically favorable areas that can serve as refugia for displaced species, or limiting dispersal to these areas. As a result, conservation measures such as expanding protected areas and increasing habitat connectivity will become increasingly necessary under climate change, to allow threatened species to remain in climatically suitable habitat.
Caten, C. T., Lima-Ribeiro, M., da Silva, N. J., Moreno, A. K., and Terribile, L. C. 2017. Evaluating the effectiveness of Brazilian protected areas under climate change. Tropical Conservation Science 10.
Ofori, B. Y., Stow, A. J., Baumgartner, J. B., and Beaumont, L. J. 2017. Combining dispersal, landscape connectivity and habitat suitability to assess climate-induced changes in the distribution of Cunningham’s skink, Egernia cunninghami. PLoS ONE 12(9): 1–17.