Rich lizards: how affluence, land cover, and the urban heat island effect influence desert reptiles persisting in an urban landscape

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A global warming of two degrees Celsius is predicted to drive almost half the world's lizard populations to extinction. Currently, the Phoenix metropolitan region in Arizona, USA, is an average

A global warming of two degrees Celsius is predicted to drive almost half the world's lizard populations to extinction. Currently, the Phoenix metropolitan region in Arizona, USA, is an average of 3 oC warmer than the surrounding desert. Using a bare lot as a control, I placed copper lizard models with data loggers in several vegetation and irrigation treatments that represent the dominant backyard landscaping styles in Phoenix (grassy mesic with mist irrigation, drip irrigated xeric, unirrigated native, and a hybrid style known as oasis). Lizard activity time in summer is currently restricted to a few hours in un-irrigated native desert landscaping, while heavily irrigated grass and shade trees allow for continual activity during even the hottest days. Maintaining the existing diversity of landscaping styles (as part of an ongoing mitigation strategy targeted at humans) will be beneficial for lizards.

Fourteen native lizard species inhabit the desert surrounding Phoenix, AZ, USA, but only two species persist within heavily developed areas. This pattern is best explained by a combination of socioeconomic status, land cover, and location. Lizard diversity is highest in affluent areas and lizard abundance is greatest near large patches of open desert. The percentage of building cover has a strong negative impact on both diversity and abundance. Despite Phoenix's intense urban heat island effect, which strongly constrains the potential activity and microhabitat use of lizards in summer, thermal patterns have not yet impacted their distribution and relative abundance at larger scales.