Thermoregulation of two sympatric species of horned lizards in the Chihuahuan Desert and their local extinction risk

Rafael A. Lara-Reséndiz, Héctor Gadsden, Philip C. Rosen, Barry Sinervo, Fausto R. Méndez-De la Cruz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Thermoregulatory studies of ectothermic organisms are an important tool for ecological physiology, evolutionary ecology and behavior, and recently have become central for evaluating and predicting global climate change impacts. Here, we present a novel combination of field, laboratory, and modeling approaches to examine body temperature regulation, habitat thermal quality, and hours of thermal restriction on the activity of two sympatric, aridlands horned lizards (Phrynosoma cornutum and Phrynosoma modestum) at three contrasting Chihuahuan Desert sites in Mexico. Using these physiological data, we estimate local extinction risk under predicted climate change within their current geographical distribution. We followed the Hertz et al. (1993, Am. Nat., 142, 796-818) protocol for evaluating thermoregulation and the Sinervo et al. (2010, Science, 328, 894-899) eco-physiological model of extinction under climatic warming. Thermoregulatory indices suggest that both species thermoregulate effectively despite living in habitats of low thermal quality, although high environmental temperatures restrict the activity period of both species. Based on our measurements, if air temperature rises as predicted by climate models, the extinction model projects that P. cornutum will become locally extinct at 6% of sites by 2050 and 18% by 2080 and P. modestum will become extinct at 32% of sites by 2050 and 60% by 2080. The method we apply, using widely available or readily acquired thermal data, along with the modeling, appeared to identify several unique ecological traits that seemingly exacerbate climate sensitivity of P. modestum.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Thermal Biology
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015


  • Climate change
  • Ecophysiological model
  • Habitat thermal quality
  • Phrynosoma
  • Thermal hours of restriction
  • Thermoregulatory efficiency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Developmental Biology


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