Some like it hot: from individual to population responses of an arboreal arid-zone gecko to local and distant climate

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Accumulating evidence has demonstrated considerable impact of climate change on biodiversity, with terrestrial ectotherms being particularly vulnerable. While climate-induced range shifts are often addressed in the literature, little is known about the underlying ecological responses at individual and population levels. Using a 30-yr monitoring study of the long-living nocturnal gecko Gehyra variegata in arid Australia, we determined the relative contribution of climatic factors acting locally (temperature, rainfall) or distantly (La Niña induced flooding) on ecological processes ranging from traits at the individual level (body condition, body growth) to the demography at population level (survival, sexual maturity, population sizes). We also investigated whether thermoregulatory activity during both active (night) and resting (daytime) periods of the day can explain these responses. Gehyra variegata responded to local and distant climatic effects. Both high temperatures and high water availability enhanced individual and demographic parameters. Moreover, the impact of water availability was scale independent as local rainfall and La Niña induced flooding compensated each other. When water availability was low, however, extremely high temperatures delayed body growth and sexual maturity while survival of individuals and population sizes remained stable. This suggests a trade-off with traits at the individual level that may potentially buffer the consequences of adverse climatic conditions at the population level. Moreover, hot temperatures did not impact nocturnal nor diurnal behavior. Instead, only cool temperatures induced diurnal thermoregulatory behavior with individuals moving to exposed hollow branches and even outside tree hollows for sun-basking during the day. Since diurnal behavioral thermoregulation likely induced costs on fitness, this could decrease performance at both individual and population level under cool temperatures. Our findings show that water availability rather than high temperature is the limiting factor in our focal population of G. variegata. In contrast to previous studies, we stress that drier rather than warmer conditions are expected to be detrimental for nocturnal desert reptiles. Identifying the actual limiting climatic factors at different scales and their functional interactions at different ecological levels is critical to be able to predict reliably future population dynamics and support conservation planning in arid ecosystems.




Grimm-Seyfarth, A., Mihoub, J. B., Gruber, B., & Henle, K. (2018). Some like it hot: from individual to population responses of an arboreal arid-zone gecko to local and distant climate. Ecological Monographs, 88(3), 336–352.

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