By ZOE WILSON
Research into the shingleback lizard could be the key to knowing what needs to be considered when helping Australian animals adapt to climate change.
Associate Professor Michael Kearney of the University of Melbourne said he was always puzzled by why there were no shingleback lizards in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs when he was younger.
That curiosity led him to studying the limits of the distribution and abundance of animals.
A/Prof Kearney said his research on the stumpy-tailed or shingleback lizard, also known as the sleepy lizard, could be applied to other animals too.
“The modelling approach we tested on the sleepy lizard can be applied to any other kind of animal and so could be used to help manage our precious fauna in the face of climate change,” he said.
He drew on the expertise of the late Prof Mike Bull, who had a long-term dataset on the ecology of the sleepy lizard.
A/Prof Kearney said when he put his model against the data he could predict the lizard's hourly patterns.
He found the lizards were adapting to the high temperatures by retreating deep into burrows with more stable temperatures, and coming out of the burrows after high rainfall.
“Our discovery of a high sensitivity to water loss was a surprise as lizards have water-tight skin and the sleepy lizard’s skin looks rather impermeable to water,” he said.
He said most of the current research on climate change and its effect on lizards and other “dry-skinned” creatures was focused on temperature alone.
A/Prof Kearney said his findings show that rainfall, microclimates and water availability also need to be included in learning how to help animals adapt to climate change.