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University of Arizona-led study finds that climate-driven extinction is happening faster

A study led by University of Arizona researchers found that climate-driven extinction is speeding up.

The work is based on surveys of dwindling lizard populations in southern Arizona’s sky-island mountain ranges.

UA professor John Wiens says he chose Yarrow’s spiny lizards for the study because they are common, easy to find and territorial.

“So we are really confident when we say that they are not there anymore," Wiens said. 

Previous studies on extinction due to climate change were measured in decades. But Wiens says the cool-climate lizards he surveyed are disappearing much faster in southern Arizona.

“We found like 70 years’ worth of extinction in just seven years,” Wiens said. 

Wiens says warm winter temperatures may be why the lizard species faces extinction as others that have adapted to hotter climates appear to be doing alright.

He could not find any babies of the species on a range near Bisbee.

“And that’s a lineage — a group of populations that has been distinct for almost three million years. And they’ll probably be gone by 2025,” he said. 

Matthew Casey has won Edward R. Murrow awards for hard news and sports reporting since he joined KJZZ as a senior field correspondent in 2015.