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Komodo dragons are severely threatened by climate change

The Komodo dragon may completely vanish unless urgent action is taken to mitigate climate change, according to a new study from the University of Adelaide. These giant lizards already have restricted habitats, which are further threatened by global warming and sea level rise. 

“Climate change is likely to cause a sharp decline in the availability of habitat for Komodo dragons, severely reducing their abundance in a matter of decades,” said study lead author Dr. Alice Jones. “Our models predict local extinction on three of the five island habitats where Komodo dragons are found today.”

The Komodo dragon, which is the world’s largest lizard species, has existed on Earth for more than a million years. Today, there are only an estimated 4,000 individuals remaining in the wild in southeast Indonesia.

“Current-day conservation strategies are not enough to avoid species decline in the face of climate change. This is because climate change will compound the negative effects of already small, isolated populations,” said Dr. Jones.

“Interventions such as establishing new reserves in areas that are predicted to sustain high-quality habitats in the future, despite global warming, could work to lessen the effects of climate change on Komodo dragons.”

The study is based on many years of fieldwork on the ecology and conservation status of Komodo dragons.

“Using this data and knowledge in conservation models has provided a rare opportunity to understand climate change impacts on Indonesia’s exceptional but highly vulnerable biodiversity,” said co-author Dr. Tim Jessop.

For their investigation, the researchers closely collaborated with the Komodo National Park and the Eastern Lesser Sunda Central Bureau for Conservation of Natural Resources.

Study co-author Deni Purwandana is the coordinator of the Komodo Survival Program. He said that the severity and extent of human impacts on Komodo dragon populations are only just being realized.

“Having an insight into future impacts of climate change provides new possibilities to work with conservation agencies and local communities to find on-ground solutions that will limit climate and other threats to Komodo dragons and their habitats,” said Purwandana.

According to the researchers, climate-change-informed decisions should be a common part of conservation practice.

“Our conservation models show that Komodo dragons on two protected large islands are less vulnerable to climate change. However, even these island habitats might not provide an adequate insurance policy for the survival of the species,” said Professor Damien Fordham.

“Conservation managers in coming decades may need to consider translocating animals to sites where Komodo dragons have not been found for many decades. This scenario can be tested easily using our approach.”

“Our research shows that without taking immediate action to mitigate climatic change, we risk committing many range restricted species like Komodo dragons to extinction.”

The study is published in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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