Lizard thermoregulation revisited after two decades of global warming

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1.Although the effects of global warming on thermoregulation are usually explored using predictions of climate envelop modelling, such effects should best be analysed empirically, studying the same population with the same methods after a long enough period of temperature rise. 2. We used a 30-year long database about body temperatures (Tbs) of field-active Psammodromus algirus lizards inhabiting a well-conserved temperate open forest, and we focused on the summers of 1997 and 2017 to compare Tbs, environmental operative temperatures (Tes), their proximity to the selected thermal range (Tsel), and the selection of sunlit and shaded patches all along the day. From these data, we estimated the precision (standard deviation of Tbs), accuracy (average distance between Tbs and Tsel) and effectiveness (extent to which Tbs are closer to Tsel than Tes) of thermoregulation. 3. Of the highest 5% of all Tbs in the database, 95% were recorded in 2017, when the adjustment to Tsel was much better for Tbs selected in a laboratory thermogradient than for field Tbs (percentages of Tbs above Tsel of 2% and 52% respectively). 4. In 2017, especially after 12:00 h, the selection of shaded patches (87% of lizards in full shade vs. <1% in full sun) was more intense than in 1997, contributed more to overall thermoregulation, and produced a larger difference between Tes and Tbs. In spite of this, Tbs were lower—and closer to Tsel—in 1997 (when most shaded patches offered favourable thermal opportunities, with Tes within or below Tsel) than in 2017 (when only 33% of full shade Tes, and 8% of all Tes, were within or below Tsel). As a consequence, estimates of the accuracy and effectiveness of thermoregulation decreased over the 20-year period examined. 5. We conclude that given the low availability of Tes within or below Tsel, lizards cannot longer prevent the rise of their Tbs above Tsel, at least in hot summer days. Thus, the effects of global warming are already hindering the ability of lizards to buffer environmental change by behavioural means, even in temperate forests with a fine-grained mosaic of sun and shade patches.
CRUE-CSIC (Acuerdos Transformativos 2022)