AGW=dead lizards? Maybe it's not the heat, but the handbags and herpetology aficionados?

I covered this story Mid May on WUWT.

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/05/13/now-its-lizards-going-extinct-due-to-climate-change/

An email today asking if this is real science or just hype prompted me to do some research. First, below, the tragic story from the lizard specialist at BYU, whose rediscovery of some old field notes apparently was enough to touch off a firestorm of press coverage. My rebuttal, with citations, follows. – Anthony

BYU prof co-authors Science paper showing climate-induced lizard decline

Lizard researcher dusts off 30-year-old field notes that formed foundation of the study (note these links to news stories are provided by BYU in their press release, they seem quite happy to have the coverage -A)

PROVO, Utah – When Brigham Young University biology professor Jack Sites spent summers in the late 1970s collecting lizards in Mexico, he had no idea his field notes would one day help form the foundation for a worldwide study that attributes local lizard extinctions to climate change.

Sites is the senior author on the paper published in this week’s issue of Science. Led by Barry Sinervo, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, the study reports a global pattern of lizard die-offs in habitats unchanged except for rising temperatures.

The researchers surveyed lizard populations, studied the effects of rising temperatures on lizards, and used their findings to develop a predictive model of extinction risk. Their model accurately predicted specific locations on five continents (North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Australia) where previously studied lizard populations have already gone locally extinct. According to the model, if current trends continue, 20 percent of lizard species could go extinct by 2080.

The disappearance of lizard populations is likely to have repercussions up and down the food chain. Lizards are important prey for many birds, snakes, and other animals, and they are important predators of insects.

The study began when Sinervo noticed local lizard extinctions, one of which was among the lizards studied by Sites between 1977 and 1991.

“I had provided a baseline data set with precise localities where the lizards were common,” Sites explained. “But Mexican ecologists were going back every few years, and pretty soon the lizards were hard to find, and then they weren’t seeing any. These are protected areas, so the habitat’s still there. So you start to think there is something else going on.”

Using Sites’ field notes for comparison, Sinervo and collaborators resurveyed 48 species of spiny lizards (Sceloporus) at 200 sites in Mexico where the lizards had been studied between 1975 and 1995. They found that 12 percent of the local populations had gone extinct.

They later connected the lizards’ decline to climate records and studied the effect of rising temperatures on lizard physiology and behavior. For example, cold-blooded lizards can’t forage for food when their bodies get too hot – they must seek shade because they can’t regulate their own temperature. The researchers found that the hours per day when the temperature allowed foraging dropped significantly.

Sites said that when the temperature increase hits during a critical month of the reproductive cycle, the lizards don’t get enough energy resources to support a clutch of eggs or embryos.

“The heat doesn’t kill them, they just don’t reproduce,” said Sites, who earned BYU’s highest honor for faculty, the Maeser Distinguished Faculty Award, in 2002. “It doesn’t take too much of that and the population starts to crash.”

But for the phenomenon to be linked to climate change, the pattern would need to be seen globally. Sites connected Sinervo with researchers in Chile and Argentina, where Sites has been working for a decade. Sinervo also worked with researchers who documented lizard declines in Africa, Australia, and Europe.

“To get this kind of pattern, on five continents in 34 different groups of lizards, that’s not random, that’s a correlated response to something big,” Sites said, adding that the effect appears to be happening too fast for the lizards to adapt.

Sites finds no joy in being part of such a significant study. “It’s a terrible sinking feeling – when I first saw the data, I thought, ‘Can this really be happening?’ It’s important to point out, but it sure is depressing.”

Sites says the model now needs detailed testing on all five continents, with a standardized protocol on lizard species that are widespread.

Read more about Sites’ exploits with reptiles in this BYU Magazine profile.

Portions of a UC-Santa Cruz news release are used here with permission.

================================================================

OK here’s the money quote from the BYU press release:

Sites explained. “But Mexican ecologists were going back every few years, and pretty soon the lizards were hard to find, and then they weren’t seeing any. These are protected areas, so the habitat’s still there. So you start to think there is something else going on.”

Yes it’s climate change! That must be it! It’s the only thing that fits…or…maybe not.

The popularity of keeping lizards as pets has exploded in the last 30 years. Catch and release programs aren’t the standard for lizards, it’s more like “catch and take home”.   In a poor country like Mexico, selling captured lizards, dead or alive to the gringos = easy money.

Take for example this report about lizard trade in Mexico from American University:

http://www1.american.edu/ted/REPTILE.HTM

Reptile Trade from Mexico:

“The illegal skins trade in Mexico represents millions of dollars annually on the black market.”

Here’s a peer reviewed paper on the lizard skin trade in Mexico:

Here’s a story about the explosion of exotic pets, including lizards, in the UK   http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/the-great-british-pet-the-new-trend-gripping-the-nation-424569.html

“The British Federation of Herpetologists believes there are already more reptiles than dogs in UK homes and while the number of canines began a steady decline 10 years ago, sales of snakes, lizards, spiders and snails continue to rocket with a five-fold increase in the past 10 years.”

Here’s another from Boston.com   http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/magazine/articles/2008/07/13/leaping_lizards/

“The popularity of reptiles as pets is exploding. In 2006, 4.8 million households in the United States owned 13 million reptiles, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. That’s double the 2.4 million households that owned reptiles in 1996.”

Maybe its not the heat, but the handbags: The “endangered species handbook” says: http://www.endangeredspecieshandbook.org/trade_reptile_lizards.php

“The luxury reptile leather trade has pushed many species toward extinction, and it shows no signs of declining.  Lizard and snakeskin products are now being sold in the volume that turtle and crocodilian leather once were. “

Even the WWF admits the trade is the problem:   http://www.worldwildlife.org/what/globalmarkets/wildlifetrade/faqs-reptile.html

“Scientists recognize some 6,000 species of reptiles in five different groups: turtles and tortoises (order Testudines), tuataras (order Rhynchocephalia), lizards (order Sauria), snakes (order Serpentes), and crocodilians (order Crocodylia). Reptiles are traded live as pets and for their parts, particularly their skins, which are valued for certain leather items such as shoes, wallets, handbags, and watchbands. In addition, some reptiles are used as food and to make traditional medicines.”

I find the choice of lizard used by Dr. Sites in the video and press release hilarious, because it underscores his complete lack of understanding of what’s going on outside his world. He uses an Australian bearded lizard (dragon) in the video, and provide this photo in the BYU PR page:

Click here to download

An Australian bearded dragon.

What’s funny about using a bearded lizard? They aren’t going extinct, they are being bred to meet the popularity demand.

http://www.lakehowellanimalclinic.com/html/bearded_dragon_biology.html

Bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) are omnivorous lizards that are native to Central Australia. These squamates have been raised in captivity with great success, with (estimates of) over 250,000 being produced in captivity per year.

Of course, with other lizards disappearing, it HAS to be climate change. There could not be any other explanation. Because, well, there just isn’t.

What a load of plonkers.

=======================

UPDATE: In comments Jimbo writes:

Here are examples of why some Mexicans and other nationals would like to catch lizards:

SHOES

Manolo Blahnik Lizard skin shoes $876.00

Manolo Blahnik black lizard ‘Cicero’ $876.00

Lucchese Womens 1883 Lizard Skin Boots $369.99

Lizard & Crocodile Penny Loafers $199.99

LADIE’S BAGS

Burgundy Lizard Skin Handbag $250

Blumarine Special Edition $749.99 YOU SAVE: 70.00 % !!!

FENDI Vintage Rare Beaded SILK LIZARD $399.00

Fendi evening handbag Neve NOW ONLY $1,113.00

——

BBC

“Customs officers are to work with police forces worldwide to crack down on the smuggling of exotic birds and animals.

The illegal trade rakes in billions of pounds a year, making it the second most lucrative after drug smuggling, according to the intern

========================================

Juraj V. says:

Temperature in Mexico:

http://climexp.knmi.nl/data/icrutem3_hadsst2_250-265E_15-30N_na.png

I can’t imagine the lizard die-off in 1860s or 1940s.

Look how the sinusoidal wave starts to go negative again.

http://climexp.knmi.nl/data/icrutem3_hadsst2_250-265E_15-30N_na.png

Well the popularity of keeping lizards as pets has exploded in the last 30 years. Catch and release programs aren’t the standard for lizards, it’s more like “catch and take home”.
In a poor country like Mexico, selling captured lizards – easy money.
Here’s a story about the explosion of exotic pets, including lizards, in the UK
The British Federation of Herpetologists believes there are already more reptiles than dogs in UK homes and while the number of canines began a steady decline 10 years ago, sales of snakes, lizards, spiders and snails continue to rocket with a five-fold increase in the past 10 years.”
Here’s another from Boston.com
The popularity of reptiles as pets is exploding. In 2006, 4.8 million households in the United States owned 13 million reptiles, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. That’s double the 2.4 million households that owned reptiles in 1996.”
Maybe its not the heat, but the handbags: The “endangered species handbook” says:
“The luxury reptile leather trade has pushed many species toward extinction, and it shows no signs of declining.  Lizard and snakeskin products are now being sold in the volume that turtle and crocodilian leather once were. “
Even the WWF admits the trade is the problem:
“Scientists recognize some 6,000 species of reptiles in five different groups: turtles and tortoises (order Testudines), tuataras (order Rhynchocephalia), lizards (order Sauria), snakes (order Serpentes), and crocodilians (order Crocodylia). Reptiles are traded live as pets and for their parts, particularly their skins, which are valued for certain leather items such as shoes, wallets, handbags, and watchbands. In addition, some reptiles are used as food and to make traditional medicines.”
Of course, it HAS to be climate change. There could not be any other explanation. What a load of plonkers.
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kwik

Lizards are breathing CO2 just like us, right? So when Lizard population goes down…less CO2. That is negative feedback.
Dr. Spencer!

kenboldt

And now the million dollar question: What’s the fastest way to increased grant money?
Anyone?
Anyone?
Bueller?
Bueller?

It should read ‘afficionados’

Michael

Oh the humanity, Iguanas freezing to death in south Florida because of man-made global warming. How are we going to stop this insanity?
FROZEN IGUANA,How to catch cold iguana’s in south Florida
[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHtnIwjIDWc]

red432

Truly annoying, as usual. Anyone who has driven around south of the border has seen kids selling exotic animals by the side of the road. In fact I saw some Mexican American kids in my town essentially trying to do the same thing with turtles they found. Lizards are also edible. These “journalists” take anything these “scientists” say and strip out any caveats or subtleties (if present) and proclaim the end of the world. grrr.

Gary

I can’t believe it. No one has mentioned the iguanas in Florida dropping from the palm trees? DUE TO THE COLD WEATHER! Surely you guys/gals remember?
http://www.justnews.com/news/22152242/detail.html
Poor widdle wizards.

Tom in Florida

In South Sarasota (FL) County they set aside several acres and made it into a scrub jay reserve. There is a big sign telling us what it is. Apparently scrub jays cannot read as scrub jays have not been found to be nesting there.

Michael

How to handle a frozen iguana
[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28hr0EADb2E]

Erik Carlseen

That’s pretty insulting to the lizards. They move around regularly during the day to sunnier / shadier spots to control their body temperature. And while egg temperature is very important to breeding, the lizards are pretty good at figuring out were to bury their eggs (soil temperature, moisture, etc). I’m sure there’s some point where they would be unable to adapt and reproduce, but it would have to be fare more drastic than what’s observed so far.

Michael

Here’s 2.44 minutes of your life you will never get back.
[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hywYK-g0DlI&feature=related]

Mom2girls

Mexicans *eat* lizards too. I have Mexican cousins who love them. Especially the big ones. Much like Cajuns eat alligators. When you’re poor any source of protein is a win.

Vincent

Seems strange, that these lizards that evolved before dinosaurs, who have experienced extremes of climates that humans can only imagine, would just now succumb to a warming of a mere 0.7c. But then, what would I know?

starzmom

I know its just a press release, but nowhere in the article did I see any indication that the temperatures in the places where the now-extinct populations lived actually rose. Only a modeled prediction of extinction, based on something that isn’t real clear. Did the researchers leave that part out altogether, or was it the journalist who wrote the press release?

RockyRoad

The researchers forget that fads are worldwide. Everybody needs to be seen in lizardskin tights sporting lizardskin wallets or handbags while wearing lizardskin shoes. It doesn’t hurt to put your sunglasses in lizardskin cases while your cranium cover features a lizardskin hatband. Everybody worldwide knows that lizardskin is hot, while climate is not!

Temperature in Mexico:
http://climexp.knmi.nl/data/icrutem3_hadsst2_250-265E_15-30N_na.png
I can’t imagine the lizard die-off in 1860s or 1940s.
Look how the sinusoidal wave starts to go negative again.

KevinM

There might have been some case here, but when the authors give so little thought to other possible causes how can they be taken seriously by anybody?
Thats not rhetorical. SOMEBODY is taking this report seriously.

Enneagram

Correct spelling: AFICIONADOS
Anyway sun-made climate change: Solar flyux=68, call 911!

Curiousgeorge

Actually, I’ve seen a increase in the lizard (and cottonmouth ) population on my farm in the past 10 years. Maybe they are all moving to MS 🙂 ;).

Daniel M

Lizards feeling sympathy pains for polar bears?

Enneagram

Hope other well known lizards to become extinct ☺

Eric Anderson

Anthony, I agree with your general skepticism, but what about this statement:
“To get this kind of pattern, on five continents in 34 different groups of lizards, that’s not random, that’s a correlated response . . .” Seems bigger than just some folks in Mexico selling pets.
The reality is, we’d probably need to see the details of the study, how the populations were counted, how the temperatures were assessed and correlated, potential non-temperature factors for the 34 different groups, etc., in order to make a definitive statement about whether the study holds water.
REPLY: I hear you, and I’ll also point out the interest in lizards and herpetology collecting is gaining momentum worldwide. The trade is happening on all continents. – Anthony

Curiousgeorge

PS: Maybe Sites should enlist the Census Bureau to go door to door and count the lizards. They probably wouldn’t respond on the mail-in form, and it would provide the gov’t with some additional labor statistics to trumpet to the media.

As an Australian this makes my day, mate. Global warming kills your lizards – then we make a killing by selling our bearded dragon lizards. The perfect crime!

Tony Hansen

In Australia , the spread of an introduced species (the cane toad) directly lead to a drop in many native animal populations.
Eating the toads (which are poisonous) often/mostly has fatal results.

Henry chance

When I wear my twin lizard cowboy boots and walk down the street. It must put lizards out of the mood romantically to see their brother on a pair of boots.

Enneagram

Seriously talking: Lizards, being cold blooded, prefer warm weather. This is indicative of Maunder like minimum approaching. Living species control their birth rate when facing hard times.

latitude

Anthony, here’s the catch/caveat to this:
“Sinervo and collaborators resurveyed 48 species of spiny lizards”
Thanks to DNA, we now have at least 7 species of giraffes.
Where in the very recent past, we only had one species of giraffe, and that one species was not in any danger.
Now, we have 7 species of giraffe, and they are all in danger.
Grouped together as one species, giraffes were in no danger.
Divided up into 7 species, all 7 species are in danger.
Get it?

H.R.

Are the lizards gone or did they move?
If the same researchers keep going back to the same place and they don’t find the lizards that were there before, do they keep looking there or do they check and see if the lizards moved with no forwarding address?
Besides the lizard trade, did anyone look a few arroyos over to see if they moved? Maybe they were being bothered by too many researchers clomping around.

Enneagram

BTW, all living beings increase or decrease its “estro”(reproductive desire) as a consequence of sun light brigthness, which through the eyes act on internal secretion glands.

rbateman

Ah, warming/extinction models:
Balsam wood strength data, findings as thin as rice paper and glue-induced hysteria.
What a world.

Ben U.

Shub said (June 7, 2010 at 1:09 pm): It should read ‘afficionados’
No, ‘aficionado’ is correct. It’s from Spanish, which doesn’t allow a doubled consonant except when it has a different sound from the single version (for example Spanish ‘rr’ sounds different than Spanish ‘r’).

Jimbo

Vincent says:
June 7, 2010 at 1:31 pm
Seems strange, that these lizards that evolved before dinosaurs, who have experienced extremes of climates that humans can only imagine, would just now succumb to a warming of a mere 0.7c. But then, what would I know?
———-
Agreed! I called this a load of croc back in May and offered up other possible explanations for their decline. These rent seekers have no shame!!!
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/05/13/now-its-lizards-going-extinct-due-to-climate-change/#comment-389352

Al Gore's Holy Hologram

Tastes like chicken and the lizard shoes sell for 3000 bucks

Steve from Rockwood

The key sentence is “But for the phenomenon to be linked to climate change, the pattern would need to be seen globally.”
It is a fact that lizards are not reproducing in the Arctic or in the Antarctic either. More evidence of AGW.

Al Gored

kenboldt says:
June 7, 2010 at 1:06 pm
“And now the million dollar question: What’s the fastest way to increased grant money?
Anyone?”
Add the words “climate change” somehow, of course.
And to maintain or increase the flow of cash, find some connection.
To make the flow permanent, make sure you need to monitor the impacts of climate change on your chosen ‘victim.’
This has been one of the main thrusts of the pesudoscience of Conservation Biology since its recent invention, and it explains a lot of the alarming headlines about just about everything.
I have seen this trick work too many times, and the opposite effect as well…

Enneagram

Light acts through the eye in the pineal gland which produces gonadotrophyn hormones which act, in its turn, on sexual organs. Then this study is absolutely WRONG.

Al Gored

latitude says:
June 7, 2010 at 2:16 pm
Anthony, here’s the catch/caveat to this:
“Sinervo and collaborators resurveyed 48 species of spiny lizards”
Thanks to DNA, we now have at least 7 species of giraffes.
Where in the very recent past, we only had one species of giraffe, and that one species was not in any danger.
Now, we have 7 species of giraffe, and they are all in danger.
Grouped together as one species, giraffes were in no danger.
Divided up into 7 species, all 7 species are in danger.
———-
And each of these “species” becomes a separate lucrative franchise for a Conservation Biology team, or even a taskforce, which must research, monitor and ‘save’ it.
So 7 times more of these ‘experts’ are required – at least. If borders are crossed, each country often also has their own. Fantastic scam.
This also explains why various species at-risk lists keep growing, which in turn is used to fool/scare the public into thinking they actually mean something.

Al Gored

Climate change also caused the dramatic reduction in the American horse population since the early 1900s.

Tommy

Maybe global warming. Maybe the lizard gods didn’t get enough sacrifices. Maybe too much poaching. Who knows.
I wonder if those lizards are just doing what’s worked well for them for all of prehistory: migrate. Migration is a great adaptation skill, so I imagine it is pretty deep in their instincts. Only now, migration means walking out of the isolated protected areas to places where they are in serious jeopardy from humans and their pets.
On the other hand, people are probably helping them migrate to places they’ve never been able to get to before, thus becoming the “invasive species” over there.
So just looking at their original locations doesn’t tell the whole story.

View from the Solent

‘What a load of plonkers’ ? From where did you learn this quintessentially English term?
REPLY: I read. I retain. I know not from where but I found it far better than the alternative. – A

Leon Brozyna

Re: biology professor Jack Sites
He don’t get out much, do he?
(Although the same can be said about many alleged research scientists who go through life wearing blinders to all but their narrow-focused concern.)

Douglas DC

Yep, I smell grant money and years of research……

Jimbo

Eric Anderson says:
June 7, 2010 at 1:53 pm
Anthony, I agree with your general skepticism, but what about this statement:
“To get this kind of pattern, on five continents in 34 different groups of lizards, that’s not random, that’s a correlated response . . .” Seems bigger than just some folks in Mexico selling pets.

——–
Eric, do you remember the frog deaths that happened worldwide. Maybe there is a similar situation happening with the lizards. Similar situation with bee deaths worldwide. The AGWers’ mistake is to assume it must be man-made co2 warming and so don’t bother to look at any other possibility because it doesn’t pay too well in grant money. What a croc!!!
So let’s reconsider: What is the most probable cause of the lizard population decline wordwide? Capture as pets, killing for handbags / shoes, disease OR a 0.7c rise in temps which previously failed to wipe out their ancestors or their dino cousins. Where is their evidence of the temperature rise in their study area? Can it be believed?
Frog deaths:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080326195628.htm
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091119135642.htm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/5008940.stm

Dave in Exile

You people can sneer all you want, but the science is settled. Theory and models are real science: data is only relevant if it can serve them. You need to accept your scientific chattering class, its shonky data, and its elitist journals and learn to think properly. It is your taxes that support, even demand, these results. So stop complaining and conform: lizards will die if you don’t.

Bryn

I blamed my neighbour’s cats for the decline in the local species of skinks. Once neighbour plus cats were gone the skinks flourished — to be taken by a burgeoning flocks of Kookaburras and once again the population of skinks has begun to decline …. The solution is simple: I’ll call any cats and kookaburras I see “global warming”.

jeef

Pure snake oil.

R. de Haan

Excellent debunking of yet another false AGW claim.
Another 10.000 to go.
Unfortunately.
And those debunked effectively t will pop up again after some time.
It’s almost natural, the propaganda comes in waves that coincide with Senate Bills.
Cap & Trade is still on the agenda.

Scarlet Pumpernickel

Humans and pesticides would be killing lizards, not the temperature LOL
Maybe saying all the birds of preys is helping them be eaten!

Henry chance

Professor from BYU?
Maybe he can shed light on the extinction of a feathered reptile:
His Name, Quezalcóatl, means literally “Quetzal-snake” or “the plumed serpent”. To the Aztecs the feathers of the quetzal bird were a symbol of something precious. Cóatl also means “twin brother”.. Thus the name Quezalcóatl is understood by Mormon Scholars to mean “The Precious Twin”,
From the Mormon writings.

Alvin

Just an idea Professor, maybe you should stop screwing with the lizards. Maybe they just don’t like you that way.
http://knowyourmeme.com/i/2270/original/political-pictures-do-not-want-surprised-guy.jpg