Tick exposure and extreme climate events impact survival and threaten the persistence of a long-lived lizard
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1. Assessing the impacts of multiple, often synergistic, stressors on the population dynamics of long-lived species is becoming increasingly important due to recent and future global change. 2. Tiliqua rugosa (sleepy lizard) is a long-lived skink (>30 years) that is adapted to survive in semi-arid environments with varying levels of parasite exposure and highly seasonal food availability. We used an exhaustive database of 30 years of capture–mark–recapture records to quantify the impacts of both parasite exposure and environmental conditions on the lizard’s survival rates and long-term population dynamics. 3. Lizard abundance was relatively stable throughout the study period; however, there were changing patterns in adult and juvenile apparent survival rates, driven by spatial and temporal variation in levels of tick exposure and temporal variation in environmental conditions. Extreme weather events during the winter and spring seasons were identified as important environmental drivers of survival. 4. Climate models predict a dramatic increase in the frequency of extreme hot and dry winter and spring seasons in our South Australian study region; from a contemporary probability of 0 17 up to 0 47–0 83 in 2080 depending on the emissions scenario. Our stochastic population model projections showed that these future climatic conditions will induce a decline in the abundance of this long-lived reptile of up to 67% within 30 years from 2080, under worst case scenario modelling. 5. The results have broad implications for future work investigating the drivers of population dynamics and persistence. We highlight the importance of long-term data sets and accounting for synergistic impacts between multiple stressors. We show that predicted increases in the frequency of extreme climate events have the potential to considerably and negatively influence a long-lived species, which might previously have been assumed to be resilient to environmental perturbations.
Journal of Animal Ecology