Climate Change, Thermal Niches, Extinction Risk and Maternal-Effect Rescue of Toad-Headed Lizards, Phrynocephalus, in Thermal Extremes of the Arabian Peninsula to the Qinghai—Tibetan Plateau

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© 2018 International Society of Zoological Sciences, Institute of Zoology/Chinese Academy of Sciences and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd Determining the susceptibility of species to changing thermal niches is a major goal for biologists. In this paper we develop an eco-physiological model of extinction risk under climate change premised on behavioral thermoregulation. Our method downscales operative environmental temperatures, which restrict hours of activity of lizards, hr, for present-day climate (1975) and future climate scenarios (2070). We apply our model using occurrence records of 20 Phrynocephalus lizards (or taxa in species complexes) drawn from literature and museum records. Our analysis is phylogenetically informed, because some clades may be more sensitive to rising temperatures. The limits for computed hr predict local extirpations among Phrynocephalus lizards at continental scales and delineate upper boundaries of thermal niches as defined by Extreme Value Distributions. Under the 8.5 Representative Concentration Pathway scenario, we predict extirpation of 64% of local populations by 2070 across 20 Phrynocephalus species, and 12 are at high risk of total extinction due to thermal limits being exceeded. In tandem with global strategies of lower CO2 emissions, we propose regional strategies for establishing new national parks to protect extinction-prone taxa by preserving high-elevation climate refugia within existing sites of species occurrence. We propose that evolved acclimatization — maternal plasticity — may ameliorate risk, but is poorly studied. Previous studies revealed that adaptive maternal plasticity by thermoregulating gravid females alter progeny thermal preferences by ±1 °C. We describe plasticity studies for extinction-prone species that could assess whether they might be buffered from climate warming — a self-rescue. We discuss an epigenetic framework for studying such maternal-effect evolution.