Does Hyperoxia Restrict Pyrenean Rock Lizards Iberolacerta bonnali to High Elevations?

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Ectothermic animals living at high elevation often face interacting challenges, including temperature extremes, intense radiation, and hypoxia. While high-elevation specialists have developed strategies to withstand these constraints, the factors preventing downslope migration are not always well understood. As mean temperatures continue to rise and climate patterns become more extreme, such translocation may be a viable conservation strategy for some populations or species, yet the effects of novel conditions, such as relative hyperoxia, have not been well characterised. Our study examines the effect of downslope translocation on ectothermic thermal physiology and performance in Pyrenean rock lizards (Iberolacerta bonnali) from high elevation (2254 m above sea level). Specifically, we tested whether models of organismal performance developed from low-elevation species facing oxygen restriction (e.g., hierarchical mechanisms of thermal limitation hypothesis) can be applied to the opposite scenario, when high-elevation organisms face hyperoxia. Lizards were split into two treatment groups: one group was maintained at a high elevation (2877 m ASL) and the other group was transplanted to low elevation (432 m ASL). In support of hyperoxia representing a constraint, we found that lizards transplanted to the novel oxygen environment of low elevation exhibited decreased thermal preferences and that the thermal performance curve for sprint speed shifted, resulting in lower performance at high body temperatures. While the effects of hypoxia on thermal physiology are well-explored, few studies have examined the effects of hyperoxia in an ecological context. Our study suggests that high-elevation specialists may be hindered in such novel oxygen environments and thus constrained in their capacity for downslope migration.



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