Resolving the life cycle alters expected impacts of climate change

Ofir Levy, Lauren B. Buckley, Timothy H. Keitt, Colton D. Smith, Kwasi O. Boateng, Davina S. Kumar, Michael J. Angilletta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent models predict contrasting impacts of climate change on tropical and temperate species, but these models ignore how environmental stress and organismal tolerance change during the life cycle. For example, geographical ranges and extinction risks have been inferred from thermal constraints on activity during the adult stage. Yet, most animals pass through a sessile embryonic stage before reaching adulthood, making them more susceptible towarming climates than current models would suggest. By projecting microclimates at high spatio-temporal resolution and measuring thermal tolerances of embryos,we developed a life cycle model of population dynamics for North American lizards. Our analyses show that previous models dramatically underestimate the demographic impacts of climate change. A predicted loss of fitness in 2% of the USA by 2100 became 35% when considering embryonic performance in response to hourly fluctuations in soil temperature. Most lethal events would have been overlooked if we had ignored thermal stress during embryonic development or had averaged temperatures over time. Therefore, accurate forecasts require detailed knowledge of environmental conditions and thermal tolerances throughout the life cycle.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20150837
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1813
StatePublished - 19 Aug 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Acute stress
  • Climate change
  • Embryo
  • Extreme events
  • Life cycle
  • Lizard

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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