Mary Tucker

and 2 more

Texas horned lizards (Phrynosoma cornutum) have disappeared from many areas in Texas, especially from urbanized areas, probably in large part due to loss of suitable habitat. Our previous studies have found that horned lizards persist and occur at high densities in some small towns in southern Texas. Nevertheless, this species has continued to decline and disappear from these towns. Long-term data from Kenedy and Karnes City indicate that when study sites experienced significant shrub and vegetation removal horned lizards declined by 79%. We hypothesize this may in part be due to the degradation of the thermal landscape for these lizards. We determined the preferred temperature range (Tset25 −Tset75) of lizards at our study sites and took field measurements of body temperature (Tb). Temperature loggers were also placed in three microhabitats across our study sites. Shrubs and vegetation provided the highest quality thermal environment, especially for about 5 hours midday when temperatures in the open and buried under the surface exceeded the lizards’ critical maximum temperature (CTmax) or were above their preferred temperature range. Horned lizard density was positively related to the thermal quality of the habitat across our sites. Texas horned lizards in these towns require a heterogenous mix of closely spaced microhabitats and especially thermal refugia, such as shrubs and vegetation along fence lines and in open fields. Maintaining thermal refugia is one of the most important and practical conservation actions that can be taken to help small ectotherms persist in human modified landscapes and cope with increasing temperatures due to climate change.