Tasmanian tree skinks, as the name suggests, are lizards native to Tasmania. They live in a huge variety of habitats – from rocky coastlines to actual trees. They eat insects, spiders and sand hoppers, while sometimes enjoying an occasional amphipod.

Now scientists at the University of Tasmania found that Tasmanian tree skinks live longer in cooler temperatures.

Tasmanian tree skink – these lizards live longer and healthier lives in cooler temperatures. Image credit: JMsayers via Wikimedia

Tasmanian tree skink is not a particularly interesting animal. It doesn’t have many unique or rare features (it is live-bearing though). However, Tasmanian tree skinks live only in Tasmania and nowhere else in the world, which is why it is important to protect them. Also, researching might help us understand how climate change might affect other lizards and reptiles in general. Because Tasmanian tree skinks live in the entire Tasmania, their habitat is vast and diverse. This means that they live in slightly different temperatures as well, which helped scientists observe how the temperature in the living environment affects their life expectancy.

Researchers have examined the cellular ageing marker of telomere (endings of DNA) length to determine individual and population quality and found that lizards in cool highlands have longer telomeres. In other words, climate and life history influence telomere length in lizards. Telomeres get shorter with age – this is true for most mammals (including humans) and birds too. The length of telomeres and how it changes over the years is a good indicator of aging. Lizards are unique in a way, because unlike humans they can lengthen short telomeres to maintain the cellular protection they provide. In the context of this research it means that Tasmanian tree skinks that live in cooler areas  invest more in cell maintenance than the ones from warm lowlands.

Luisa Fitzpatrick, one of the authors of the study, said: “This study used an unparalleled long-term dataset to examine how cellular ageing links to patterns of life history, such as how an individual grows and reproduces. The fact that we have this incredible data in markedly different climates allowed us to extend this question to include how the environment influences these patterns.”

This research is relevant for humans as well. We live in all kinds of environments too and we would hope one day to find a way to lengthen our own telomeres as well.

Climate change is an ongoing problem, which is going to be extremely important in the future. It will be difficult to deal with, but it is basically the meal that we’ve prepared for ourselves. We need to research how climate change will affect wildlife and see what we can do to protect it.


Source: University of Tasmania