Habitat conversion and accelerated climate change pose an unprecedented threat to montane regions, leading to increased concern for biodiversity in these areas. Given their narrow thermal niches, tropical montane amphibians and reptiles are particularly vulnerable to environmental change. Investigating the mechanisms responsible for diversification and species persistence in mountains is therefore imperative. This project will study 15 species of lizards and glassfrogs in the Brazilian Atlantic forest to test the hypothesis that topographic complexity and climatic stability are responsible for diversification and population persistence in montane regions. The project combines inventories in 13 poorly-studied sites, climate-based models of species distributions, molecular studies afforded by DNA sequencing, and physiological assays.
Understanding the processes that underlie endemism in tropical mountains will advance studies of biodiversity patterns and contribute to biodiversity prediction worldwide. Field and laboratory data will enable reassessments of species boundaries, identifying new species and morphologically cryptic lineages. Physiological data will directly inform conservation of taxa under risk of climate-related extinction. This project will provide educational and research opportunities for three undergraduates per year, one graduate student, and one postdoctoral associate in a minority-serving urban campus, significantly increasing exposure of underrepresented and underprivileged students to trans-disciplinary, collaborative, field-based work.