Side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana)

Side-blotched lizard sunny itself on bare ground.
A side-blotched lizard sunning itself on the ground. (National Park Service)
Category: Reptiles
Ecosystems: Shrubsteppe
Vulnerability to climate change (More details)


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Climate vulnerability

Sensitivity to climate change


Side-blotched lizards appear to exhibit low reproductive sensitivity to climate, as warming temperatures (particularly warmer nights during breeding season) may increase reproductive output and subsequent survival. In Washington, side-blotched lizards are at the northern end of their geographic range, where they emerge later seasonally, have a shorter season of activity, and longer diel activity periods that are unimodal versus bimodal than at more southerly locales. Hence, warming trends linked to climate change are anticipated to result in earlier seasonal emergence, increase the length of seasonal activity, and perhaps shift unimodel diel activity periods toward bimodal ones. Further, side-blotched lizards appear to select specific temperature microhabitats, indicating behavioral thermoregulation. However, this species may exhibit some physiological sensitivity to changes in precipitation and warming winter temperatures (e.g., if warmer temperatures increase energetic demands). Overall sensitivity of this species is somewhat higher due to its association with shrub-steppe habitats, which are sensitive to altered fire regimes and invasive weeds that degrade or eliminate habitat. Northern populations appear more dependent on grasshoppers and crickets than southern populations, but it is unclear how climate change may alter the side-blotched lizard prey base. Northern females generally lay one or two clutches of eggs during a 2-4 month oviposition period, whereas southern females lay one or two clutches over oviposition periods lasting as long as 5-6 months; hence, a shift in length of the oviposition interval may occur with increased seasonal breadth. Northern populations generally produce fewer clutches of large eggs, and produce fewer offspring each year. As northern populations appear primarily climatically challenged, climate change could reduce that challenge if the seasonal breath increases without disfavoring the available prey base, and altering energetic demands in a disfavorable way, i.e., making it more costly to maintain equivalent energy levels seasonally. High uncertainty in the pattern of response leads me to believe that confidence in the Sensitivity Rank should be downgraded from Moderate to Low-Moderate. Lastly, thermal heterogeneity of microhabitats has been shown to be associated with higher rates of infection of microparasites, which result in lizards electing to bask at lower temperature outside their range of preferred temperatures. Hence, if climate change promotes thermal heterogeneity of microhabitats, it may induce a higher rate of infection of microparasites, which has uncertain, but potential negative consequences for side-blotched lizards.

Exposure to climate change


  • Increased temperatures
  • Changes in precipitation
  • Altered fire regimes
  • Increased invasive weeds >Increase thermal heterogeneity


This species is identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) under the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP). SGCN-classified species include both those with and without legal protection status under the Federal or State Endangered Species programs, as well as game species with low populations. The WDFW SWAP is part of a nationwide effort by all 50 states and five U.S. territories to develop conservation action plans for fish, wildlife and their natural habitats—identifying opportunities for species' recovery before they are imperiled and more limited.