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Project Update on Tasmania’s Snow Skinks

Blog Post - Project Update on Tasmania’s Snow Skinks

Written by Dr Erik Wapstra, University of Tasmania.

In 2012, FNPW funded a project modelling the consequences of climatic changes in alpine and lowland Snow Skinks. This extensive project is most of the way through its fieldwork and will result in five peer-reviewed articles.

Shifting climates are set to affect a diverse array of species, with many species predicted to become extinct. The threat to worldwide biodiversity must be met with effective ecological management and well informed conservation work. Physiology, behaviour and ecology are key aspects of species biology which are likely to play vital roles in mediating species responses to climate change. Predictive models allow an accurate representation of the processes governing a species’ response to climate change.

Reptiles prove particularly important within this framework as they are ectothermic (cold-blooded) and are therefore especially vulnerable to climate change. Recent projections have suggested that reptile biodiversity will decrease by as much as 20% within the next 50–70 years. However, reptiles also possess an array of adaptations to deal with natural variations in the thermal environments, which may help mitigate the impacts of climate change.

A Tasmanian lizard genus, Niveoscincus, provides an excellent example of this, as variation in altitudinal distribution between the species has led to different adaptations to local thermal conditions. Niveoscincus provides a powerful comparative system with which to explore the role of physiological and behavioural adaptations in mediating the effects of global climate change. To accurately predict the outcome of global climate change for these species and prepare appropriate management plans, it is crucial that we incorporate the mechanisms which may alleviate or even prevent the loss of reptile biodiversity into future climate change models.

We undertook a comparative study of Snow Skinks, using two lowland species and two alpine species, to determine the mechanisms (physiology, behaviour, ecology) by which Snow Skinks respond to climate change. We will incorporate this data into a mechanistic model in which we can extrapolate out the long-term consequences of climate change for species persistence and range expansion. We have completed the first and second stages of this project, and are currently completing the third stage.

The data from this project will feature in five papers, making the results available to an international audience. Three papers have already been published. We have completed the laboratory and field based experiments, and finalised one of the two computer models required as the basis for this project. At the conclusion of our study we will present our findings to the scientific community at key international conferences.

We were awarded $11,000 from FNPW in May 2012. The funding was dedicated to animal husbandry, travel to field sites and equipment, travel for presentation, and technical assistance for lizard capture and husbandry.

We greatly appreciate FNPW’s support, and thank them for their generous contribution.

 

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