Influence of Behavioral Thermoregulation on Microhabitat Use by Two Sceloporus Lizards

Document Type



Biology (HMC)

Publication Date



I investigated the relationship between microhabitat use and behavioral thermoregulation in the lizards Sceloporus occidentalis and S. graciosus. I studied two populations of each species along a 1300—m elevational gradient in the San Gabriel Mountains of southern California. These species occupy different, but overlapping, elevational ranges, with S. graciosus occurring at higher elevations. Because their ranges differ, the species experience different thermal environments; however, they are nearly identical in several measures of thermal physiology. Body temperatures of active lizards varied little with altitude, although air temperatures decrease substantially over this range. Both species compensated behaviorally for variation in thermal environments by varying basking frequency and microhabitat use. By thermoregulating, lizards maintained body temperatures that favor high levels of locomotor performance and other physiological functions. Microhabitat use varied markedly with elevation. Sceloporus occidentalis was almost completely arboreal at low elevation; lizards of both species were partly arboreal, partly terrestrial at intermediate elevation; and S. graciosus was mainly terrestrial at high elevations. Thus, the species converged in microhabitat use where sympatric. These shifts in microhabitat use paralleled altitudinal changes in (i) the spatial location of thermally suitable microhabitats and (ii) habitat structure. Behavioral thermoregulation, then, appears to be an important determinant of habitat use in these lizards. Results of this study may have important implications for lizard community ecology. Microhabitats that are otherwise appropriate for lizards can be thermally unsuitable depending on the local thermal environment. Hence, the thermal environment and lizard thermal biology constrain patterns of structural habitat use. As a result, physiological considerations could limit the behavioral and evolutionary options for species experiencing interspecific competition. For example, competitors in sympatry may be unable to evolve microhabitat resource partitioning because only a subset of microhabitats are thermally suitable.

Rights Information

Ecology, 71(1), 1990, pp. 315-327 ©1990 by the Ecological Society of America