Issue 1
Monday, 04 March 2019
Charles Darwin University
E-news
Zoology Professor, Keith Christian is investigating if geckos living in areas that have remained climatically stable for hundreds of thousands of years have become too specialised for their own good
Zoology Professor, Keith Christian is investigating if geckos living in areas that have remained climatically stable for hundreds of thousands of years have become too specialised for their own good

The evolutionary consequences of living in a refuge

A CDU researcher has been jointly awarded an Australian Research Council Discovery grant to investigate the physiology and genetics of geckos living in moist, stable environments compared with those living in more variable habitats.

Zoology Professor, Keith Christian will work with an Australian National University researcher, Professor Craig Moritz, to identify whether geckos living in areas that have remained climatically stable for hundreds of thousands of years may have become too specialised for their own good.

“Despite the fact that the climate in Northern Australia has changed over time, there are areas that have remained relatively stable, and these areas are biodiversity hotspots because of the large number of plant and animal species living there. These areas can be quite large, such as the Arnhem Land escarpment or quite small in the case of Kimberley limestone patches,” Professor Christian said.

“The research will compare geckos living in these moist areas with ones living nearby in the wider environment – both genetically and physiologically. We aim to find out if these areas, while being biodiversity hotspots, are also in effect an evolutionary trap for the species relying on them.

“We expect to find animals living outside these relatively stable habitats to have genetically and physiologically adapted to their changing environment to survive. Whereas we expect the ones living in the climatically stable areas to be less genetically diverse and more physiologically specialised,” he said.

So, have the geckos living in these islands of relatively stable habitat lost the ability to adapt and avoid extinction if these areas are severely affected by climate change?

“Our research will help answer that and will identify how valuable these areas are and what conservation decisions flow from that,” Professor Christian said.  

“Certainly, if the species living in the moist habitats effectively have narrower climate tolerances and are more specialised in their habitat requirements, then it is likely that any disruptions to the areas, including climate change, could have serious consequences,” he said.

The three-year, $422,000 project will involve major field trips early in each Dry Season to areas across Northern Australia. Geckos will be sampled when they are active at night, with tissue samples taken to identify genetic makeup and tests run to measure water loss and other physiological traits.