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Biogeography and systematics of reptiles and amphibians and evolution of ecophysiological adaptations to climate in lacertid lizards

My current research focuses on the evolution of ecophysiological adaptations to climate in lizards (e.g. Lacertidae) as well as in general on the biogeography and systematics of reptiles and amphibians. These two ectothermic animal groups are threatened by a global increase in temperature and changes in precipitation patterns, but the complex interactions of distribution range/population persistence, local climate and ecophysiological adaptation are still poorly understood.


Based on the latest genetic and genomic phylogenetic trees, the project in collaboration with MfN colleagues and external collaborators tries to shed light on reptile’s adaptation to climate using experimental designs to determine species-specific evaporative water loss rates and thermal preferences under consideration of the species’ ecology and distribution ranges. We use state of the art methods in the field of genetics and genomics, modelling approaches as well as the latest methods in our experiments and field studies.

Expeditions and future projects

At the end of 2018, I and colleagues from the US and South Africa will once again travel to the Kalahari to gather more climate data and genetic material and increase our data sampling to tackle lizards’ adaptation to climate. A future project will focus on the genomic basis and responsible genes for the experimentally determined adaptations of lizards.


  • Technischen Universität (TU) Braunschweig
  • University of California
  • Ohio University
  • Villanova University
  • Michigan State University
  • University of Helsinki

My research is in part tightly linked to the DFG project VE 247/11-1 by Prof. Dr. Johannes Müller, MfN Berlin, und Prof. Dr. Miguel Vences, TU Braunschweig.

Selected publications

  • Kirchhof, S., Mahlow, K. & Tillack, F. (2016). The identity of Stenorhabdium temporale Werner, 1909 (Serpentes: Colubroidea). Vertebrate Zoology 66:179-190.
  • Kirchhof, S., Hetem, R. S., Lease, H. M., Miles, D., Mitchell, D., Müller, J., Rödel, M.-O., Sinervo, B., Wassenaar, T. & Murray, I. W. (2017). Thermoregulatory behavior and high thermal preference buffer impact of climate change in a Namib Desert lizard. Ecosphere 8(12):e02033. 10.1002/ecs2.2033.
  • Sinervo, B., Miles, D. B., Wu, Y., Méndez de la Cruz, F. R., Kirchhof, S., & Qi, Y. (in press). Climate change, thermal niches, extinction risk and maternal-effect rescue of Toad-headed lizards, Phrynocephalus, in thermal extremes of the Arabian Peninsula to the Tibetan Plateau. Integrative Zoology.