Modern climate change will increase temperatures, as well as the frequency and severity of droughts and wildfires across the semiarid montane regions of the southwestern United States. Predictions of reduced habitat suitability and increases in extinctions precipitated by climate change derive from modeled responses to these conditions, especially increased temperatures. What is often lacking are empirical tests of those modeled predictions. Here I report findings from surveys of montane lizard assemblages during a period of increased temperatures, extended drought, and including a wildfire. I selected survey routes that included upper-elevation limits for western fence lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis), granite spiny lizards (Sceloporus orcuttii), and side-blotched lizards (Uta stansburiana), as well as the lower limits for southern sagebrush lizards (Sceloporus vandenburgianus), to measure the extent to which habitat occupancy shifted as drought conditions changed over 4 years. At the onset of drought, the abundance of all species declined. After initial declines, populations stabilized and I observed recruitment, positive population growth, and elevation shifts with only modest increases in rainfall. Once the drought abated, there were further increases in recruitment and population growth, but a colder winter and heavy snows in 2017 were coincident with declines and range contractions in both western fence and side-blotched lizards on the higher-elevation survey route. There was no indication that any of these species' populations were at risk of local extinctions; rather, shifts at range margins and use of microclimates revealed resilience and mechanisms of how these species might deal with future conditions, including occupying climate refugia.
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Vol. 63 • No. 3