Current anthropogenic driven climate change is evident and for the next two decades a warming of at least 0.2ºC is projected with associated changes in precipitation patterns. Although climate change has affected and changed the global biodiversity throughout the earth’s history and species have adapted to novel conditions, current climate change is occurring at higher rates than past changes, and many studies have identified climate warming to be among the most important threats to biodiversity. Climate change is expected to have severe impacts on natural populations and has been shown to alter species’ distribution, physiology, phenology and behaviour. Moreover, climate change is expected to have stronger effects on species with ectotherm physiology, restricted ranges, specific habitat requirements and limited dispersal capabilities. Reptiles and amphibians are important components of biodiversity, and amphibians are particularly valuable as bio-indicators. These species are, however, often underrepresented in conservation planning despite having the highest threat status of all terrestrial vertebrates, with significantly more species at risk than either birds or mammals. Moreover, amphibians and reptiles are considered as highly vulnerable to climate change due to several reasons.
Climate warming is projected to induce e.g. (1) changes in abundance; (2) fragmentation of suitable habitats; (3) upslope displacement of montane species; (4) changes in the timing of lifecycle events, such as phenology, hibernation, aestivation and breeding; (5) the probability of infection from pathogens such as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis as a result of poorer overwintering regimes and/or improved thermal conditions for the pathogen; (5) changes in sex ratios and morphotypes. Several studies have addressed the effects of past climatic conditions on contemporary species ranges and there is still little known about the ecological and evolutionary responses of western Palaearctic (e.g. northern Africa and Arabia) herpetofauna species under past climatic conditions. Likewise there are currently few studies that have investigated the effects of climate change on ecosystems and species in the latter regions. Finally, there is very little known about the performance of the conservation area network (CAN) of the region under current and future climatic conditions and the ‘potential’ priority areas for expanding the existing CAN.
Main research goals
Building a distribution database for the western Palearctic reptiles and amphibians
- Assess the effects of past climatic conditions (Last Interglacial; Last Glacial Maximum; Mid Holocene climatic optimum) on species ranges using paleodistribution models and molecular markers
- Assess the effects of future climatic conditions (2020, 2050 and 2080) on contemporary species’ ranges and turnover using forecast distribution models and molecular phylogenetics
- Optimizing the resiliency of the conservation area network of the western Palearctic region under climate change by indentifying conservation priority areas for reptiles and amphibians
de Pous, P.E. (2011) Climate change and European reptiles: from large-scale spatial range shift projections towards a more realistic assessment of species responses. MSc dissertation. University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom.
Genova, M.I. (2011) Amphibians in a changing world: accessing the future distribution of Mediterranean species under different climate scenarios. Internship report, Resource Ecology Group. Wageningen University the Netherlands.