Assessing the conservation risk of Sphaerodactylus notatus, the U.S. herpetofaunal species most vulnerable to sea level rise

Stephanie L. Clements, Emily A. Powell, Caitlin C. Mothes, Christopher A. Searcy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While climate change and sea level rise threaten species across the globe, species in low-lying coastal regions, such as South Florida, are projected to face particularly severe threats. One such species is the Florida reef gecko (Sphaerodactylus notatus), the only gecko native to the eastern U.S., and a highly understudied species that persists in heavily fragmented habitats of only three coastal Florida counties. To assess the conservation status of this species, we conducted surveys throughout South Florida to determine potential extirpations from historic localities and to delimit S. notatus’ current distribution. We also estimated the level of threat S. notatus faces from sea level rise relative to other species by analyzing sea level risk of all herpetofauna in the U.S. We detected geckos in only 41% of sites with appropriate habitat, and in only 65% of historic localities. Geckos were only present within 1.2 km from the coast, and the minimum 2.2 m of sea level rise already expected based on current carbon emissions will place 85% of suitable S. notatus habitat under water. Our findings were used to update the conservation risk of S. notatus according to IUCN and Florida guidelines for listing threatened and endangered species, and suggest this species now fits the criteria to warrant listing. In comparison to all other U.S. herpetofaunal species, we found that S. notatus is the most at risk from sea level rise due its fidelity to low-lying coastal habitats.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-121
Number of pages15
JournalBiodiversity and Conservation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Climate change
  • Florida
  • Fragmentation
  • Reef gecko
  • Reptile
  • Threatened species

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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