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Planet Earth

Planet Earth

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Published by Abhishek Narayanan

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Published by: Abhishek Narayanan on Jan 12, 2012
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01/12/2012

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CLIMATE IMPACT

Future fogged
They depend on optimum environmental conditions and get affected even by subtle changes in the habitat that surrounds them. That’s what makes the issue of climate change, a crisis for their existence, writes Abhishek Narayanan on the impending danger to reptiles and amphibians
“They may be thought of as primitive, slow, dull and dumb witted, but on the contrary, they can be lethally fast, spectacularly beautiful, strangely affectionate and tremendously sophisticated,” Sir David Attenborough had said, about the cold-blooded creatures, the reptiles and amphibians. Sadly, these creatures are now forced to combat warming and climate change, the factors which have affected their numbers, even in areas where there is no direct human intervention. One such instance is that of La Selva, virtually untouched till now. In the pristine forests of Costa Rica, Steven Whitfield and his colleagues monitored the amphibian population at the ‘La Selva Biological Statio’ since 1950. They used the data to analyse the population demographics of the ‘Herps’. The results were shocking; a 75 per cent decline in the numbers in 35 years. Globally, a major percentage of reptiles and amphibians are on the decline and some are even being driven to extinction. The amphibians, which depend mostly on an aquatic habitat, suffer more owing to their porous skins and breeding phenology. The threat of extinction is looming large over lizards as well. Barry Sinervo, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, who has been conducting studies, has revealed that almost 12 per cent of Mexico’s Sceloporus lizards have been extinct since 1975. Based on this model, it is believed that about 6 per cent of the global lizard population will be extinct by 2050; with climate change being one of the main causes. According to these studies, lizards and other reptiles, mainly from the tropics, will be the ones affected more, thereby putting the Indian

The common vine snake

The fat tailed gecko

planet earth | 28 | january 1 1

it is feared. The slightest increase in temperature reduced the standing leaf litters which caused the decline in large populations of reptiles and amphibians in Costa Rica. the amphibians in particular depend greatly on optimum micro-habitat for their metamorphosis. feeding and looking for a mate – a period of pseudo-aestivation. scarce and excess levels. Reptile species will also be history because there will only be male births. causing desiccation of the eggs. reptiles will spend more time in accessing shade and cooling down rather than foraging. This is particularly the case in species which have Temperaturedependent Sex Determination (TSD). This stimulus is an altered environmental variable which modifies the micro-habitat of the organism in question. but also affect the complex life requisite activities. The increased temperature renders the soil dry. This. the core temperature of the Earth will rise by 6°C. is spatial dispersal. both events being spaced inconsistently. Drier periods cause desiccation of eggs. especially during the breeding season. feeding and looking for a mate – a period of pseudo-aestivation. climate change for example. Consequences of global warming It has been predicted that by the next century. reduced fitness and mismatched prey emergence timings. leopard geckos etc. such as crocodiles. Due to the increased temperature.subcontinent into the danger zone. Even after successful mating. reptiles will spend more time in accessing shade and cooling down rather than foraging. Aberrations in precipitation occur at White banded gecko Brahminy blind snake planet earth | 29 | january 1 1 . inappropriately and in extremes. especially during the breeding season. The rising temperatures also result in increased body water loss. The dispersal can happen in altitude when The burrowing frog emergence. marine turtles. The mating calls in the frogs will also reduce. early Due to the increased temperature. They also lead to wetter periods resulting in washing away of nesting sites of reptiles like gharials. In species with Temperaturedependent Sex Determination (TSD). There can be developmental abnormalities in the embryo and larva and quite often. will not only cause altitudinal shifts and dispersals. thereby diminishing the success rate of mating. reduce environmental cues for breeding and dispersal in favour of congregation at limited water supply sources. there is selective diminution of a particular sex. The principal response of any species to an offending stimulus. This increases predation vulnerability. increased morbidity in species with prolonged metamorphosis like Polypedates and Philatus. turtles and species with ephemeral breeding habits like the Clinotarsus.

“We should let our extinction event be one of our biggest legacies. Currently he’s based in Delhi and works as a helpline co-ordinator and education officer with Wildlife SOS. Not only diseases. Therefore. The loss of even 1 per cent of these controllers would exponentially increase mosquitoes. policy changes and recycling. add up to the biomass and act as a food source for secondary predators. Initiating research at the ground level. apart from acting as an environment controller by feeding. jeopardising the food supply. This will help in managing declining populations. For example. passionate shutter and nature lover. It is the reptiles which keep a tab on the rodent population. considered one of the major pests.” Measures that can help Wrinkled frog Reptiles like lizards and amphibians are the best insect controllers available and they maintain the population of these vectors in control. some skinks skip developmental stages to emerge early before torrential rains. carry numerous parasites and are dangerous to humans. The spatial responses get complemented with adaptive genetic alterations which cumulate to become the evolutionary adaptation. Sustainable resource management. However. a Delhi-based NGO. climate change and habitat modification Bronze frog Pics: Abhishek Narayanan . 4. Some diurnal snakes are active during the night when the temperature becomes optimum. but insects like locusts. Rodents. flies etc. may precede long-term changes. our own existence. leading to crops being destroyed. the top predators suffer. flies etc. A herpetologist in the making. each organism has its dispersal potential and thus an organism with limited mobility like amphibians or narrow these food sources gradually affects the food chain down and consequently. climatic requirements like tropical lizards will suffer more. bees and wasps will also increase. The planning of any future nature reserves should encompass regions with scopes of dispersal for the organisms to find a suitable environment. Accordingly.increased height effectively reduces the local temperature to meet the tolerance or requirement. This congregation will also occur during breeding periods. Dispersal may happen to a concentration of food and water supply during scarcity. A scarcity of planet earth | 30 | january 1 1 1. A canopy dwelling specie may get down to the forest floor in order to achieve the suitable microhabitat. reptiles and amphibians indirectly manipulate the food chain. Reptiles like lizards and amphibians are the best insect controllers available and they maintain the population of these vectors in control. humidity etc. by monitoring species. Mechanism projects like Amphibian Ark can help revive endangered species. models of generalisations should be prepared. the writer is an avid photographer. vector-borne diseases increase due to climate change. 5. reduced community size etc. 3. So. The commensal species should be monitored and experimented for adaptations to changes in temperature. The need of the hour is to accept the inconvenient truth about global warming and take pre-emptive actions so that we don’t lose the important strata of life and invariably. Subtle changes like altered breeding pattern. His main interests lie in the evolutionary ecology of reptiles and amphibians and their adaptations to predation. 2. The loss of even 1 per cent of these controllers would exponentially increase the percentage of mosquitoes. Reducing habitat destruction and minimising pollution. what difference would it make if some frogs or snakes go missing? For starters.

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