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Reptiles and Amphibians Seek Shrinking Cool Refuge

Species with specific temperature ranges are especially vulnerable to sudden or extended changes in their environment. When the environment becomes unsuitable for living, animals either relocate or perish. Christopher Raxworthy of the American Museum of Natural History has shown that the extinction threat for amphibian and reptile species is considerably higher than previously thought, and this increase may be due to the effects of climate change on their habitat.

Over the course of ten years, Raxworthy noticed that chameleon populations in Madagascar began relocating each year, progressively scaling the mountains higher and higher in search of cooler temperatures. Combining his observations with local meteorological data, Raxworthy found a correlation between the movements of chameleons and the increase in temperature over the last decade. As average temperature increased, the availability of suitable habitat shrank; the animals could no longer tolerate the habitat at the mountain base. The increase in temperature forced the amphibian and reptile populations to move up the mountain.  Eventually, the populations will be unable to climb further.

In addition to increases in temperature, amphibian populations are being threatened by infectious diseases and habitat destruction. If habitats continue to be fragmented, species on the move will have nowhere to relocate and could eventually perish.  This problem is particularly acute in tropical areas, where numerous studies have documented habitat loss.  This research provides evidence for the link between climate change and its impact on species, especially in understudied tropical areas.

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  • Photo of green tree frog
Amphibian populations are being threatened by infectious disease, habitat destruction and a warming climate, especially in tropical areas.
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