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Ice-age reptile extinctions provide a glimpse of likely responses to human-caused climate change

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---A wave of reptile extinctions on the Greek islands over the past 15,000 years may offer a preview of the way plants and animals will respond as the world rapidly warms due to human-caused climate change, according to a University of Michigan ecologist and his colleagues.

The Greek island extinctions also highlight the critical importance of preserving habitat corridors that will enable plants and animals to migrate in response to climate change, thereby maximizing their chances of survival.

As the climate warmed at the tail end of the last ice age, sea levels rose and formed scores of Aegean islands that had formerly been part of the Greek mainland. At the same time, cool and moist forested areas dwindled as aridity spread through the region.

In response to the combined effects of a shifting climate, vegetation changes and ever-decreasing island size, many reptile populations perished.

To gain a clearer understanding of the past consequences of climate change, Johannes Foufopoulos (yo HOHN ess, foo FOP oo lus) and his colleagues calculated the population extinction rates of 35 reptile species---assorted lizards, snakes and turtles---from 87 Greek islands in the northeast Mediterranean Sea. The calculated extinction rates were based on the modern-day presence or absence of each species on islands that were connected to the mainland during the last ice age.

Foufopoulos and his colleagues found a striking pattern to the island extinctions. In most cases, reptile populations disappeared on the smallest islands first---the places where the habitat choices were most limited.

Especially hard hit were "habitat specialist" reptiles that required a narrow range of environmental conditions to survive. In addition, northern-dwelling species that required cool, moist conditions showed some of the highest extinction rates.

The study results appear in the January edition of American Natur

Contact: Jim Erickson
University of Michigan

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Ice-age reptile extinctions provide a glimpse of likely responses to human-caused climate change
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