Time Of Activity is a Better Predictor of The Distribution of a Tropical Lizard than Pure Environmental Temperatures

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© 2020 Nordic Society Oikos. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd Environmental temperatures influence ectotherms’ physiology and capacity to perform activities necessary for survival and reproduction. Time available to perform those activities is determined by thermal tolerances and environmental temperatures. Estimates of activity time might enhance our ability to predict suitable areas for species’ persistence in face of climate warming, compared to the exclusive use of environmental temperatures, without considering thermal tolerances. We compare the ability of environmental temperatures and estimates of activity time to predict the geographic distribution of a tropical lizard, Tropidurus torquatus. We compared 105 estimates of activity time, resulting from the combination of four methodological decisions: 1) how to estimate daily environmental temperature variation (modeling a sinusoid wave ranging from monthly minimum to maximum temperature, extrapolating from operative temperatures measured in field or using biophysical projections of microclimate)? 2) In which temperature range are animals considered active? 3) Should these ranges be determined from body temperatures obtained in laboratory or in field? And 4) should thermoregulation simulations be included in estimations? We show that models using estimates of activity time made with the sinusoid and biophysical methods had higher predictive accuracy than those using environmental temperatures alone. Estimates made using the central 90% of temperatures measured in a thermal gradient as the temperature range for activity also ranked higher than environmental temperatures. Thermoregulation simulations did not improve model accuracy. Precipitation ranked higher than thermally related predictors. Activity time adds important information to distribution modeling and should be considered as a predictor in studies of the distribution of ectotherms. The distribution of T. torquatus is restricted by precipitation and by the effect of lower temperatures on their time of activity and climate warming could lead to range expansion. We provide an R package ‘Mapinguari’ with tools to generate spatial predictors based on the processes described herein.