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Identifying island safe havens to prevent the extinction of the World's largest lizard from global warming


Jones, AR and Jessop, TS and Ariefiandy, A and Brook, BW and Brown, SC and Ciofi, C and Benu, YJ and Purwandana, D and Sitorus, T and Wigley, TML and Fordham, DA, Identifying island safe havens to prevent the extinction of the World's largest lizard from global warming, Ecology and Evolution, 10, (19) pp. 10492-10507. ISSN 2045-7758 (2020) [Refereed Article]

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Copyright Statement

© 2020 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License (, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

DOI: doi:10.1002/ece3.6705


The Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) is an endangered, island‐endemic species with a naturally restricted distribution. Despite this, no previous studies have attempted to predict the effects of climate change on this iconic species. We used extensive Komodo dragon monitoring data, climate, and sea‐level change projections to build spatially explicit demographic models for the Komodo dragon. These models project the speciesí future range and abundance under multiple climate change scenarios. We ran over one million model simulations with varying model parameters, enabling us to incorporate uncertainty introduced from three main sources: (a) structure of global climate models, (b) choice of greenhouse gas emission trajectories, and (c) estimates of Komodo dragon demographic parameters. Our models predict a reduction in range‐wide Komodo dragon habitat of 8%-87% by 2050, leading to a decrease in habitat patch occupancy of 25%-97% and declines of 27%-99% in abundance across the species' range. We show that the risk of extirpation on the two largest protected islands in Komodo National Park (Rinca and Komodo) was lower than other island populations, providing important safe havens for Komodo dragons under global warming. Given the severity and rate of the predicted changes to Komodo dragon habitat patch occupancy (a proxy for area of occupancy) and abundance, urgent conservation actions are required to avoid risk of extinction. These should, as a priority, be focused on managing habitat on the islands of Komodo and Rinca, reflecting these islandsí status as important refuges for the species in a warming world. Variability in our model projections highlights the importance of accounting for uncertainties in demographic and environmental parameters, structural assumptions of global climate models, and greenhouse gas emission scenarios when simulating species metapopulation dynamics under climate change.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:climate change, conservation management, demographic model uncertainty, extinction risk, population viability, sea-level rise
Research Division:Environmental Sciences
Research Group:Environmental management
Research Field:Conservation and biodiversity
Objective Division:Environmental Policy, Climate Change and Natural Hazards
Objective Group:Understanding climate change
Objective Field:Global effects of climate change (excl. Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica and the South Pacific) (excl. social impacts)
UTAS Author:Brook, BW (Professor Barry Brook)
ID Code:144157
Year Published:2020
Funding Support:Australian Research Council (FL160100101)
Web of Science® Times Cited:4
Deposited By:Plant Science
Deposited On:2021-04-26
Last Modified:2021-05-05
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