Lobbyist-fueled Lizard Monitoring in Texas

dunes sagebrush lizard“Comptroller Susan Combs’ office, of course, knows doodly squat about lizards,” says a Houston Chronicle editorial on the dunes sagebrush lizard, federally listed as a threatened species. The problem is that the Texas state comptroller’s office is in charge of monitoring the lizard population to make sure the stipulations of a free-market habitat conservation plan are being obeyed.

State law forbids the US Fish and Wildlife Service from so much as reviewing the state contractor’s paperwork, an August article in the Chronicle reported. Even stranger, the editorial reports, the comptroller’s office keeps the identities of the landowners participating in the habitat enhancement program a secret.

And of course, because this is Texas, the editorial mentions that independent oil producers are worried that the lobbyist group monitoring the lizards will favor large producers over the independents.

Read the whole editorial in the Houston Chronicle, here.
Read the news article about the lizard monitoring, in the Chronicle’s oil industry news section, here.

Photo: Dunes sagebrush lizard, courtesy USFWS

New Legless Lizards in California

lizard_head_hr_jparham photo creditFour new species of legless lizards have been discovered in California, joining the one species of legless lizard that was previously known in the state.

An NBC News report notes that the four new species were not found in the wilderness, but in some heavily trafficked areas including: “dune bordering a runway at Los Angeles International Airport; an empty lot in downtown Bakersfield, Calif.; a field littered with oil derricks; and the margins of the Mojave Desert.”

The paper describing the four species was published in the journal Breviora and is open access. (The paper was the top link on this page at the time this was posted.)

Lots of people like new legless lizard species, apparently, so you can find coverage in:CNN.com (the most detailed coverage)
Popular Science (refers to Reuters coverage)
the previously mentioned NBC News report
and last but not least, the California State University, Fullerton press release.

The reports even include a handy clue for telling a legless lizard apart from a snake. If it blinks, it’s a lizard.

Photo: This legless lizard, which has a purple belly, is among four new species discovered in the state by CSUF scientist James Parham and a research colleague at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley. Credit: James Parham, used courtesy of CSU-Fullerton


Lizards and Climate Change

shortHornedLizardTwo papers in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography* outline two threats that the increased local temperature aspect of climate change makes on lizards.

The first paper is about lizards in South America, but North American reptiles might experience something similar. Bearing live young allowed lizards to occupy colder climates, the paper says, but those species are now limited to those climates. As temperatures rise, those species will be forced either closer to the pole(s) or to higher elevations — severely limiting available habitat.

Read the paper The evolution of viviparity opens opportunities for lizard radiation but drives it into a climatic cul-de-sac, here. (Fee or subscription needed for full article.)
Read the University of Exeter press release on EurekAlert, here.

Another paper in the journal took data on the body temperature of lizards and compared it to the temperature of their environments. It found that it was the temperature of the environment, not the species’ body temperature, that correlated most closely (either positively or negatively) with important life-history factors such as clutch size and longevity.

Because environmental temperature seems to play a bigger role than body temperature (and therefore the lizards’ ability to compensate for environmental temperature), the paper says, climate change can have a “profound influence on lizard ecology and evolution.”

Read the paper Are lizards feeling the heat? here. (Fee or subscription required for full article.)

*In this case it is a coincidence that I ran two items from this journal on consecutive days. I received alerts on these papers from two different sources. Go figure. I’ll try to make next week lizard- and biogeography free.

Photo: The viviparous North American species the short-horned lizard, courtesy of the National Park Service.

Love, Lizards and Prescribed Burns

Alan Templeton, a scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, has been studying collared lizards for decades and has been in love with them since he was a teenager. He found that the lizards only survive as far east as Missouri in an unusual fire-dependent ecosystem. But after a population decline, prescribed burns on these ecosystems didn’t help the lizard’s recovery much. It took landscape-level burns to get the ecosystem back in working order so the lizards could thrive.

Templeton’s paper on the lizard study is on the cover of the journal Ecology this month. 

Read the story from Washington University here.

Read the original press release from Washington University here.

Read the paper in the journal Ecology. (Free access.)