Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Biological Sciences


Biological Sciences


College of Science and Mathematics


Emily Taylor

Advisor Department

Biological Sciences

Advisor College

College of Science and Mathematics


Chapter 1: Animals can respond to extreme climate by behaviorally avoiding it, or by physiologically coping with it. We understand behavioral thermoregulation and physiological thermal tolerances, but water balance has largely been neglected. Climate change includes both global warming and changes in precipitation regimes, so improving our understanding of organismal water balance is increasingly urgent. We assessed the hydric physiology of endangered Blunt-nosed Leopard Lizards (Gambelia sila) by measuring cutaneous evaporative water loss (CEWL), plasma osmolality, body mass, and body condition throughout their active season. On average, G. sila had low CEWL that is likely desert-adaptive, and high plasma osmolality that is indicative of dehydration. Given that our study was in a drought year, it is reasonable to believe that every lizard measured was dehydrated to a degree. We hypothesized that throughout the G. sila active season, as their habitat got hotter and drier, G. sila would become increasingly dehydrated and watertight. Instead, CEWL and plasma osmolality showed minimal change for females and nonlinear change for males, which we hypothesize is connected to sex-specific reproductive behaviors and changes in food availability. We also measured thermoregulation and microhabitat use, expecting that more hydrated lizards would have higher body temperature, better thermoregulatory accuracy, and spend more time aboveground. However, we found no effect of CEWL, plasma osmolality, body mass, or body condition on these thermal and behavioral metrics. We posit either that G. sila tolerate dehydration to maintain activity during their brief active season, or that because every lizard was dehydrated due to the drought, they all experienced equally constrained thermoregulation and microhabitat use. Finally, G. sila spend considerable time underground in burrows, and we believe burrows serve as essential hydric, not only thermal, refugia. Our findings suggest that these lizards might benefit from artificial humid refugia and supplemental hydration, especially during drought.

Chapter 2: Testing acclimation plasticity informs our understanding of functional biodiversity and applies to conservation management amidst our rapidly changing climate. While there is a wealth of research on the plasticity of thermal and hydric physiology in response to temperature acclimation, there is a comparative gap for research on acclimation to different hydric regimes, as well as the interaction between water and temperature. We sought to fill this gap by acclimating Western Fence Lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis) to experimental climate conditions (crossed design of Hot or Cool, Dry or Humid) for eight days, and measuring cutaneous evaporative water loss (CEWL), plasma osmolality, hematocrit, and body condition before and after acclimation under common conditions. CEWL changed plastically in response to the different climates, with lizards acclimated to Hot Humid conditions experiencing the greatest increase in CEWL. Change in CEWL among individuals was negatively related to treatment vapor pressure deficit. Plasma osmolality, hematocrit, and body condition all showed greater changes in response to temperature than to humidity or vapor pressure deficit. CEWL and plasma osmolality were positively related across treatment groups before acclimation and within treatment groups after acclimation, but the two variables showed different responses to acclimation, suggesting that they are interrelated but governed by different mechanisms. This study is among just a small number of studies that assess more than one metric of hydric physiology and that test the interactive effects of temperature and humidity. Such measurements will be essential for predictive models of activity and survival for animals under climate change.