The Not-So-Bitter Future of Coffee: Anolis Lizards as Biocontrol Agents in Mainland and Island Agroecosystems

Figure 7. Anolis gundlachi, Orocovis, Puerto Rico.

Figure 1. Anolis gundlachi, Orocovis, Puerto Rico.

The agroecosystems that produce the life-sustaining stimulant we know as “coffee” have long been used as model systems to study complex ecological interactions and ecosystem services, with numerous studies revealing trophic interactions among coffee plants, pests, and pest-predators. Despite the high abundance and overlapping distribution of Anolis lizards, relatively few studies have addressed their functional role in agriculture. In our recent study titled, “Anolis Lizards as Biocontrol Agents in Mainland and Island Agroecosystems,” my colleagues and I explore the biocontrol potential of anoles against the world’s most devastating coffee pest, the coffee berry borer (Coleoptera: Hypothenemus hampei) in mainland and island settings.

My vision of agricultural landscapes as post-apocalyptic biodiversity deserts was trumped the minute I stepped foot onto a shade coffee farm in Orocovis, Puerto Rico. Far from the dystopian nightmare that I had envisioned, this diversified shade coffee farm bustled with the herpetological glory and natural complexity of a native forest (Fig. 1). Furthermore – and perhaps most importantly – the farmer complained not of issues with crop yield, pests, and disease.

As a plant, coffee occurs naturally in the forest understory and is cultivated traditionally among native shade trees as an understory crop. While pressures to increase production have led many farmers to transition to more intensive practices (i.e., the reduction of shade cover and application of agrochemicals to manage crop pests), these methods are becoming increasingly unsustainable and insufficient in light of emerging biological threats. In addition to climate change and the emerging coffee rust disease, the coffee berry borer poses a unique threat for dozens of coffee growing nations and nearly 20 million small-scale farmers who depend on coffee production as a primary commodity and means of subsistence. While the coffee berry borer (CBB) is capable of inducing 60-90% reductions in yields and persists unaffected by topical pesticides, our understanding of the predator-prey interactions that drive its top-down control and how these factors vary across management regimes and eco-geographic space has profound socio-economic and environmental implications for biological control.

Representative photographs of diversified shade coffee in Mexico (a), diversified shade coffee in Puerto Rico (b), intensive sun coffee in Mexico (c), and intensive sun coffee in Puerto Rico (d).

Figure 2. Representative photographs of diversified shade coffee in Mexico (a), diversified shade coffee in Puerto Rico (b), intensive sun coffee in Mexico (c), and intensive sun coffee in Puerto Rico (d).

To assess the biocontrol capacity of anoles, we conducted experimental and field-based tests of how CBB populations respond to anole predation across mainland (Mexico) and island (Puerto Rico) coffee farms with parallel forms of land-use intensity. Anole functional response and infestation reduction potential were assessed by simulating pest outbreaks in the lab, while coffee farms were surveyed along complementary gradients of intensification. Organic, diversified shade coffee farms were representative of low-intensity production, and sun coffee monocultures that included the application of agrochemicals were representative of high intensification (Fig. 2). Continue reading The Not-So-Bitter Future of Coffee: Anolis Lizards as Biocontrol Agents in Mainland and Island Agroecosystems

Crested Anole Cannibalism in Miami!


Take a look at this picture uploaded to iNaturalist by user braddockbiotech, a Middle School student from Miami-Dade County who is recording observations of non-native anoles in Florida as part of our LizardsOnTheLoose project (in association with the Fairchild Challenge, you can read more about this project on Anole Annals here and here).

The picture shows an adult male Puerto Rican crested anole (Anolis cristatellus) chomping down on a younger juvenile, which is frantically displaying back at it. Why is the smaller anole displaying? An innate anti-predatory response? Or perhaps a targeted response at the male to highlight they are conspecifics?

This year we are incorporating iNaturalist into our #LizardsOnTheLoose project, which aims to record the distributions and habitat use of non-native anoles throughout South Florida. We hope to get more fascinating natural history insights like this as the submissions roll in! If you’re interested in learning more about our #LizardsOnTheLoose anole project, please take a look at this video:

Anole Photo Contest 2017: Call for Submissions!

Anolis vermiculatus, by Raimundo López-Silvero Martínez

Another year, another field season (or seasons) come and gone, and now it’s time to share the great anoles we’ve seen! Get ready for the Anole Annals Photo Contest: 2017 Edition.

As in previous years, the Anole Annals team wants to see your best anole photographs for our 2018 calendar.

Here’s how it works: anyone who wants to participate will submit their favorite photos. The editors of Anole Annals will choose a set of 30-40 finalists from that initial pool. We’ll then put those photos up for a vote on this here blog, and the 12 winning photos will be chose by readers of Anole Annals, as well as a panel of anole photography experts. The grand prize winner and runner-up will have his/her photo featured on the front cover of the 2017 Anole Annals calendar, second place winner will have his/her photo featured on the back cover, and they’ll both win a free calendar!

Before we move on, I’d like to issue a correction from last year’s calendar – due to an unfortunate email miscommunication, we accidentally attributed several photos to the wrong photographer. By the time we realized our mistake, the calendar was already in print. We would like to sincerely apologize to Raimundo López-Silvero Martínez and Rosario Basail​, whose photos, Anolis vermiculatus (September) and Anolis garridoi (April) respectively, we mis-credited. But please, take a look and appreciate them here! We will be sure to be more careful this year.


Anolis garridoi, by Rosario Basail​

Back to business. The rules: submit your photos (as many as you’d like) as email attachments to To make sure that your submissions arrive, please send an accompanying email without any attachments to confirm that we’ve received them. Photos must be at least 150 dpi and print to a size of 11 x 17 inches. If you are unsure how to resize your images, the simplest thing to do is to submit the raw image files produced by your digital camera (or if you must, a high quality scan of a printed image).  If you elect to alter your own images, don’t forget that it’s always better to resize than to resample. Images with watermarks or other digital alterations that extend beyond color correction, sharpening and other basic editing will not be accepted. We are not going to deal with formal copyright law and ask only your permission to use your image for the calendar and related content on Anole Annals (more specifically, by submitting your photos, you are agreeing to allow us to use them in the calendar). We, in turn, agree that your images will never be used without attribution and that we will not profit financially from their use (the small amount of royalties we receive are used to purchase calendars for the winners). Please only submit photos you’ve taken yourself, not from other photographers–by submitting photos, you are declaring that you are the photographer and have the authority to allow the photograph to be used in the calendar if it is chosen.

Please provide a short description of the photo that includes: (1) the species name, (2) the location where the photo was taken, and (3) any other relevant information. Be sure to include your full name in your email as well. Deadline for submission is November 6, 2017.

Good luck, and we look forward to seeing your photos!

Egret Eats Green Anole

Photo by John Karges

Photo by John Karges

We’ve seen this before. Anoles are, alas, no match for these large and wily marauders. John Karges provides the story: “The egret was flying down the riparian woodland corridor over a side channel, and abruptly landed in the mid-story thicket overhanging the stream and immediately began a stalk. It lunge-grabbed the anole, and very quickly devoured the adult anole in a matter of seconds.”

And here’s where it went down: 2 Oct 2016 San Antonio Mission NHP, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas.

And the inevitable outcome.

Photo by John Karges

Photo by John Karges

Keep Your Enemies Closer: Green Anole Seeks Safety in the Coils of a Snake

The head of the Green Anole is circled in white. The tolerance of the Cornsnake was perhaps aided by what appeared to be full belly.

The head of the Green Anole is circled in white. The tolerance of the Cornsnake was perhaps aided by what appeared to be full belly.

Snakes love anoles, though their affection is seldom reciprocated. Unsurprising. But, it seems a snake/anole relationship which leaves the anole happy and undigested is not beyond the realm of possibility. In a recent natural history note, published in Herpetological Review, James Stroud and I describe an unlikely friendship I happened upon while working as a field technician in Miami FL. While collecting samples and doing routine maintenance on an automatic water sampler in Everglades National Park, I found a Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis) nestled within the coils of a large Cornsnake (Pantherophis guttatus) inside the external battery housing of the sampling unit. At first, my delight was focused on the snake (such encounters were a big perk of the job), but then I noticed a slender head regarding me cautiously from the safety of the coils. After a moment, the lizard slowly pulled its head fully underneath its protector, and I closed the lid on the snake/lizard duo, content the battery was in working condition. It was a cool day, and I was happy that I did not need to disturb the animals.

Given the tendency of snakes to make meals out of anoles, this encounter struck me as odd. After casually mentioning it to James Stroud, he immediately suggested this as a possible incident of kleptothermy, which describes a thermoregulatory process by which an organism regulates its body temperature by stealing the warmth of other organisms. The snake was certainly much larger, and so even though it was a fellow ectotherm, snuggling up to it would have likely provided some increase in thermal inertia. Thermal benefits aside, did the oblivious(?) guardian also provide protection against smaller Cornsnakes, perhaps more used to preying on anoles of that size? Did the lizard even realize what it had decided to make its bed upon when it crawled into the dark confines of the battery housing? We may never know.

Concerns Raised over Introduction of Festive Anole to Bermuda

From the September 28, 2017 edition of The Royal Gazette, the daily newspaper of Bermuda.

Fears over lizard arrival

Jonathan Bell

  • Thriving: the brown anole, a new lizard species believed to have arrived from Florida (Photograph supplied)

Bermuda’s latest lizard arrival, the brown anole, appears to be thriving but is prompting concern over the island’s endangered natives.

The lizards, first seen in 2014 and recently spotted on the grounds of Aberfeldy Nursery in Paget, are suspected to have arrived from Florida.

One of that state’s most abundant lizards, the anole arrived there from the Caribbean, where it is native to the Bahamas and Cuba.

Popular as pets but aggressive breeders in the wild, the lizard, distinguished by ridges on its back, has proliferated in the southern United States.

According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Bermuda has two distinct populations of brown anoles.

Genetic analysis shows that the two groups came from “separate founding events”, meaning the second did not arise from the first.

Noting the lizard’s capacity to spread rapidly, Jonathan Starling, executive director of the environmental group Greenrock, voiced concern that the anole would ultimately crowd out Bermuda’s imperilled skinks.

“Unlike the three other Anolis species known to be in Bermuda, the common blue Jamaican, the Warwick or Antiguan and the Barbados, this one is primarily a terrestrial species, the rest being arboreal or tree dwelling,” Mr Starling said.

“The endemic Bermuda skink, already at critically low populations, is also a primarily terrestrial species, so this new lizard poses a much bigger threat to it than the others did.

“I am not aware of the current range of this new lizard but I believe it is still confined within Pembroke and Paget parishes, so at the moment it is not coming into conflict with the remaining known skink populations. However it is likely their range will expand and come into contact with known skink populations within a decade, if not sooner.”

The unwelcome development is the latest of many threats to the endemic skink, which are easily trapped and killed by discarded bottles and cans.

Skinks are also at jeopardy from storms, as well as predation from other invasive species such as cats and rats.

“We’d hope that new initiatives, such as mandatory recycling or a bottle bill, would at least reduce that particular threat to skinks, which would likely benefit them in handling the novel threat posed by this invasive lizard,” Mr Starling said.

Keeping Up With The Anole Literature

For anole biologists and enthusiasts, there are several ways to keep up with the latest and greatest anole research. These include RSS feeds, social media outlets such as Twitter, and email alerts from websites like Google Scholar (or from Anole Annals! – see the box on the right-hand side of this page). Nonetheless, the amount of literature that already exists on our beloved anoles can sometimes seem overwhelming. Modern search engines have made identifying this work easier than ever before, and we believe that continuing to promote the visibility and accessibility of anole literature will only strengthen our research community. With that in mind, we have created a resource that we hope will be helpful to those of us who spend our time steeped in anole literature.

The resource is a bibliography of Anolis literature, through the end of 2016, which we have compiled via searches of manuscript databases and manual curation. Here are some things you should know:

  • We intend to update the bibliography at the end of each calendar year. Thus papers published in 2017 will appear early in 2018.
  • The bibliography certainly contains errors and omissions. You can help us improve it! The file used to generate the collection can be downloaded, edited, or updated on GitHub. Any suggested edits will be sent to us for approval, and we’re excited for those start coming in.
  • The bibliography is a BibTeX file, a format used by the Latex markup language. Free software like Bibdesk, JabRef, and BibTool can be used to open BibTex files directly.

Lastly, and most importantly:

  • Most major citation software packages (e.g. Endnote, Papers, Mendeley, Zotero) can import BibTeX files. By importing the BibTeX filed used to generate this bibliography into your own citation manager, you can have the full value of this collection at your fingertips. Major benefits of doing so include the ability to easily search and filter within the bibliography, and of course, to instantaneously generate a list of citations from any subset of the full list.

We hope that AA readers will find this resource useful. We also look forward to hearing your suggestions for its improvement! Lastly, we’d like to thank members of the Losos Lab for assisting with the construction and curation of the collection.

This post was co-written by Anthony Geneva and Nick Herrmann.

Evidence for evolutionary determinism in the signal design of lizards?

Photographs of a subset of lacertid lizard species used in this study. From the left top to the right bottom: Acanthodactylus beershebensis, Lacerta bilineata, Dalmatolacerta oxycephala, Podarcis melisellensis, Tropidosaura gularis, Podarcis siculus, Heliobolus lugubris, Algyroides nigropunctatus, Lacerta media.

Photographs of a subset of lacertid lizard species used in this study. From the left top to the right bottom: Acanthodactylus beershebensis, Lacerta bilineata, Dalmatolacerta oxycephala, Podarcis melisellensis, Tropidosaura gularis, Podarcis siculus, Heliobolus lugubris, Algyroides nigropunctatus, Lacerta media.

The vast array of signals used in animal communication is a continuous source of awe and a hot topic in evolutionary and behavioral research. One important factor contributing to the signal diversity we witness today is ‘signal efficacy’: the ability of a signal to travel efficiently through the environment and attract the receiver’s attention. With this in mind, natural selection is expected to mold signal design for maximum efficacy of information transmission and detectability, leading to signal variation among populations/species living in different environments. To illustrate, a recent study by Tess Driessens and colleagues assessed the degree of variation in the dewlap design of Anolis sagrei by comparing 17 populations distributed across the Caribbean (Fig. 1).

Phylogenetic relationships among seventeen Anolis sagrei populations. Pie charts illustrate dewlap pattern proportions for each population per sex (black = solid; light grey = marginal; dark grey = spotted). Photographs represent male and female dewlaps of typical individuals from every population.

Fig. 1 — Phylogenetic relationships among 17 Anolis sagrei populations. Pie charts illustrate dewlap pattern proportions for each population per sex (black = solid; light grey = marginal; dark grey = spotted). Photographs represent male and female dewlaps of typical individuals from every population.

Their findings showed large interpopulational variation in dewlap size, pattern, and color, and more interesting, they established a link between the dewlap design of brown anoles and the environment they live in. Lizards occurring in more ‘xeric’ environments had a higher proportion of solid dewlaps with a higher UV reflectance; lizards inhabiting ‘mesic’ environments had predominantly marginal dewlaps showing high reflectance in red. This was true for both males and females. Like Ng et al. (2011) and their observations on dewlap variation in A. distichus across an environmental gradient, Driessens et al. (2017) interpret their findings as evidence for adaptive divergence of a signaling apparatus.

Surprisingly though, while there are numerous great examples of comparative studies finding support for convergent evolution in visual and acoustic signaling systems, (e.g. Endler 1992; Fleishman 1992; Nicholls & Goldizen 2006, to say a few), similar (comparative) studies, but then, on the phenotype of chemical signals are almost entirely lacking. This is probably due to the combination of only very recent developments in chemical analytical and statistical comparative tools, the time researchers need to assemble a large-scale multi-species chemical dataset, and perhaps due to our own predisposition to visual and auditory signals. Currently, the proper analytical tools for studying natural products chemistry are available and affordable, permitting comprehensive taxon-wide research on the evolution of chemical signal diversity and design. Ultimately, there has never been a better time as now to be a comparative chemical ecologist.

Photograph of the cloacal region of a male lacertid lizard (Lacerta agilis), showing his numerous femoral pores with protruding glandular secretion.

Photograph of the cloacal region of a male lacertid lizard (Lacerta agilis), showing his numerous femoral pores with protruding glandular secretion.

Finally, three Belgians, two Spaniards and one Greek (sounds like the start of a joke with ample potential) took up the challenge to examine variation in the chemical signal design of lizards. Although underrepresented in studies on chemical signal diversity, lizards are an excellent group for investigating chemical signal evolution, as many of them they bear numerous glands on their thighs that secrete waxy substances, which they deposit while moving through their habitat. These secretions are often considered the leading source of chemical signals involved in lizard communication.

The study started with a quest. A quest to collect gland secretions of as many species as possible (within a PhD timeframe). Luckily, we were fortunate enough to be able to count on the help of many collaborators (Shai Meiri, Chris Broeckhoven, …). We focussed on lacertid lizards, as they are a species-rich family distributed over a wide geographical area, and known to rely strongly on chemical communication in several contexts.

In total, we sampled secretions from 64 species throughout, Europe, Africa, and Asia, covering a wide array of habitats and climate regions: from the Mediterranean maquis over the alpine meadows in the Pyrenees Mountains, to the sandy Israeli dunes and the Kalahari Desert of South Africa (Fig. 2). Back in the lab, we determined the chemical composition and chemical ‘richness’ (number of different chemical compounds) of the secretions using GC-MS, and obtained climate data for all catch-localities from online databases.

Map showing the sample localities of the 64 lizard species under study.

Fig. 2 — Map showing the sample localities of the 64 lizard species under study.

Our gathered data showed considerable variation in the chemical richness and composition of lacertid secretion. Shared-ancestry failed to explain among-species patterns of variation, hinting that chemical signals may change relative rapidly. Most interestingly, our findings revealed a strong relationship between the environmental conditions species live in and the chemical composition of their glandular secretions. On the one hand, lizards living in ‘xeric’ environments, characterized by high temperatures and arid conditions, contained higher proportions of stable and heavy-weight compounds in their secretions. Hot and dry conditions increase the evaporation rate of chemicals, and so, decreasing the longevity of a signal. Stable and heavy-weight compounds most likely reduce evaporation rate and counteract the rapid signal fade-out through evaporation, generating a highly persistent scent-mark. On the other hand, species inhabiting wet, humid conditions produced highly aromatic and low-weight secretions containing numerous different compounds. This chemical mix probably creates a volatile-rich signal that can be used for long-distance airborne communication.

While we cannot deny that these findings of convergent evolution in the design of chemicals signals are fascinating, some would say this outcome is not unexpected.

“[…] a cadre of scientists has taken the […] view, that convergence is the expectation, that it is pervasive, and that we should not be surprised to discover that multiple species […] have evolved the same features to adapt to similar environmental circumstances. From this perceived ubiquity, the scientists draw a broader conclusion: evolution is deterministic, driven by natural selection to repeatedly evolve the same adaptive solutions to problems posed buy the environment. — J. Losos (Improbable Destinies, p. 33)

Nonetheless, I am confident to state that using by far the largest comparative dataset amassed to-date to examine patterns of chemical signal divergence, we have provided strong evidence for a significant relationship between chemical signal design and prevailing environmental conditions, which may results from differential selection on signaling efficacy (Baeckens et al. 2017).

T-shirt Contest for Anolis Symposium VII Now Open!

T-shirt from the 1999 Anolis symposium at Penn State

T-shirt from the 1999 Anolis symposium at Penn State

As you may have heard in the announcement of the 7th Anolis symposium, we are searching for the official t-shirt design! You’re all surely aware of how talented our community is, as exemplified by past photo and poetry competitions, so we are asking you all to submit your best designs! A panel of discerning anolologists will choose the winning design, and the winner will receive glory, bragging rights, and pride in knowing that their artwork will be memorialized in t-shirt form for all to admire (the winner will also receive a free shirt).

Designs must meet the following criteria:
Style: line drawings are preferred
Size: Must fit neatly into a 8” x 8” square
Number of colors: 2
File type: high-quality .jpg, .png files or illustrator files.

Also, lease be aware that we may have to make minor alterations to the winning design in order for it to fit onto a t-shirt.

Front of the shirt from the 2009 symposium

Front of the shirt from the 2009 symposium

Please send all submissions to with the subject line “anole t-shirt contest” by October 20, 2017!

Stay tuned for the winning design, and may the odds be in your favor! We look forward to seeing all of your submissions. For more information on the symposium, be sure to check out the official page!

p.s. Who still has a t-shirt from the 1989 meeting? Photo?

Back of the t-shirt from the 2009 symposium at Harvard

Back of the t-shirt from the 2009 symposium at Harvard

Request for Anolis aquaticus Photos and Sightings

Photo by Anolis aquaticus from

Hello anole enthusiasts!

A quick note and a request from your Anolis aquaticus correspondent. Our new paper on stress-related body color brightening in Anolis aquaticus was recently selected as Editor’s Choice in the Canadian Journal of Zoology. In it, we document a genus-atypical direction of color change following exposure to a stressor, possibly related to optimizing camouflage in the water anole’s unusual habitat. Enjoy!

We are embarking on a new research direction with these wonderful watery critters. In our early stages of surveying, I’d like to ask for your help.

We are exploring morphological and behavioral variation across the water anole’s range to explore several hypotheses related to coloration, habitat lighting, temperature, and stress.
For example, dewlap coloration seems to be fairly variable: water anole dewlaps from our sites at Las Cruces Biological Station are red-orange (left), but at Osa the dewlaps are much yellower (e.g., screen shot taken from Brave Wilderness’s video* on the water anole, right).

In addition, we’re also interested in knowing a little more about water anoles in the riparian zones that are found in otherwise deforested tropical pasture lands. We’ve put together a map of all known collection sites of museum specimens and published studies (sites shown without exact coordinates in the interest of species’ protection; grey sites are approximate).

Anolis aquaticus collection and sightings

You can help by sharing with us your photographs of water anoles (dewlaps are of special interest, but any photographs would be appreciated) and/or locality data** of Anolis aquaticus sightings or collection. Locations of sightings in pasture/agricultural areas are especially needed!

Lindseyns @
Lindsey.swierk @

Thank you for your help!

*A very enthusiastic group called Brave Wilderness posted a video about their search for the “mysterious” water anole. I have mixed feelings about it and its less-than-perfectly-accurate information, but it certainly captures kids’ imaginations!

**To keep this charismatic species safe and help prevent poaching, please send any GPS coordinates to me directly rather than posting them publicly.

Anolis garmani in South Florida; 11 June 2016

Anolis garmani, the Jamaican giant anole; Miami-Dade county, Florida (11 June 2016, Nikon D7100).

Anolis garmani, the Jamaican giant anole; Miami-Dade county, Florida (11 June 2016, Nikon D7100).

Every year, I try to get down to south Florida at least a couple of times to stomp around for non-native anoles and other lizards. To date, I’ve only managed to find and photograph three Jamaican giant anoles, Anolis garmani, in south Florida — three individuals over two specific visits to the Miami-Dade area. The first two were in June of 2016, and the third (and largest) was in August 2017. The garmani featured here was the second wee giant from that first visit.

I’d been anxious to photograph garmani for quite some time, and we (James Stroud, Eric-Alain Parker, and myself) were more than a little jazzed to get our hands on both of those garmanis.  A. garmani was quite high on my holy-grail list for south Florida non-natives, and, whereas this garmani may have been lacking in the “giant” aspect, it certainly didn’t lack in its color play. The lead image above through the following three profile shots were all taken within the span of two minutes (1:26pm through 1:28pm):

Anolis garmani [B], 11 June 2016 (1)

Anolis garmani [B], 11 June 2016 (2)

Anolis garmani [B], 11 June 2016 (3)

When we first spotted this particular wee giant biding its time in the plenty of existence, it was sporting the familiar bright emerald green:

Anolis garmani [B], 11 June 2016 (5)

Minutes later, in hand and not too thrilled about its potential lifespan outlook, the colors shifted quite dark…

Anolis garmani [B], 11 June 2016 (4)

…and then, more comfortably, back to a more-emerald green base:

Anolis garmani [B], 11 June 2016 (6)

Looking down from above, it had a fairly typical anole head from a central Floridian’s perspective…

Anolis garmani [B], 11 June 2016 (8)

But looking up from below? An extremely awesome speckled circus of contrast and patterning:

Anolis garmani [B], 11 June 2016 (7)

Yeah, this was one hell of a lizard to get to work with. Actually, all three of them were. I’ll save the bulk of photographs for the other two individuals for a future time, but for quick reference, here’s a single shot of each:

This is the first individual we found on June 2016:

Anolis garmani [A], 11 June 2016

And here’s the much-larger male Eric and I tracked down (and almost caught) in August 2017:

Anolis garmani, 06 August 2017

~ janson

Are Brown Anoles in Florida Really Driving Green Anoles to Extinction III: A Post-Irma Update

Almost anyone who cares about anoles in the US  is aware of the hypothesis that the arrival of brown anoles (Anolis sagrei) into Florida has driven declines in the abundance of native green anoles  (A. carolinensis). Though there is certainly evidence that this hypothesis may be valid to some extent, we’ve previously wondered if the decline is as severe as folks seem to think it is. Have green anoles instead simply shifted to higher perches where we don’t see them as often? An informal mark-recapture effort conducted in Gainesville FL suggests that green anoles may in fact be quite abundant, and  based on the evolutionary history of green and brown anoles across their ranges, we do in fact expect green anoles to shift upwards where they co-occur with brown anoles.

Green anoles, increasingly elusive in Florida

Green anoles, increasingly elusive in Florida

We now have yet another piece of evidence that green anoles may be thriving at the tops of trees , just out of sight. Because of Hurricane Irma, which wreaked havoc across Florida last week, many of those tree canopies have fallen to the ground. And Miami herpetologist Steven Whitfield  reported yesterday seeing “more green anoles in the past two days than I have in the two months before that.” This observation was confirmed by other local biologists as well, in comments on Whitfield’s initial Facebook post that said “Green anoles are all over the place. Seems they were around up in the canopy, but now the canopy is on the ground so they’re easy to see.”


Help Train iNaturalist’s Artificial Intelligence to Identify Anole Species from Photographs!

iNaturalist has built an artificial intelligence that can identify species from photographs. You can read more about this work here. It’s a powerful tool to help connect people to the natural world and help grassroots conservation efforts overcome species identification issues.

This artificial intelligence now works on about 20,000 species globally for which we have sufficient data to on which to train the model. We need your help to make it work better on the genus Anolis!
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There are 416 known species of anole, but only 197 species have been observed on iNaturalist. And only about 25 species have enough observations (~20) to include in the artificial intelligence.

We need your help to:

  1. Upload your photos of anoles, particularly those which are data deficient in iNaturalist
  2. identify photos of anoles posted by others so that they can be used to train the artificial intelligence

To get started, navigate to the genus Anolis page on iNaturalist by clicking on ‘Species’ in the menu and searching for the genus Anolis.
Asset 9@3xOnce you’re on the genus Anolis page, 1. you can see the current count of how many Anole species of the total have been observed. Click ‘View all’ to see the full histogram. 2. Clicking on the Trends tab will list some of the ‘Wanted’ species that haven’t yet been observed as well as recent additions to the tally. As more Anole observations are uploaded and identified, the stats on this page will update.
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Upload your photos of anoles
First Log In or Sign Up to iNaturalist.
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Then Click ‘Add’ from the dropdown in the main menu to launch the upload tool.
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Drag your anole photos into the upload tool. Each card represents a single observation, you can drag them to combine them. Make sure you add 1. identifications, 2. dates, and 3. locations to each card. Then, 4. submit your observations.
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Identify photos of anoles posted by others
Assuming you’re logged in to your account, Click ‘Identify’ under ‘Observations’ in the main menu to launch the identify tool.
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From the identify tool, 1. Enter ‘Anoles’ in the ‘Species’ field and 2. optionally add a country or other location into the ‘Place’ field to filter observations of Anoles that need identifications. 3. Click on an observation to view it in more detail. If you can identify it, 4. click ‘Add ID’, choose a species, and 5. Save your identification.
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Genomic Signatures of Climate Adaptation in Anolis cybotes

Anolis cybotes, female from Barahona, Dominican Republic

Anolis cybotes, female from Barahona, Dominican Republic

Katharina Wollenberg Valero & Ariel Rodríguez

Thermal adaptation is the evolution of the ability to persist in novel thermal environments. Phenotypic characters that allow such adaptation, as well as the resulting shifts in the geographic distributions of species, are an emerging field of study in the midst of a changing global climate. Yet, the genomic basis of such phenotypic adaptation is less well understood, so recent efforts of evolutionary biologists are now aiming at one emerging question: Which genes determine thermal adaptation, and are these the same across different populations and species? Luckily, Anolis is yet again at the forefront of novel discoveries being made in this field (see Campbell-Staton et al., 2017).

Many studies have independently identified genes that are responding to changes in the thermal environment, be it through change of expression under an acute stress, or through changes in the DNA sequence as evolutionary response. In 2014, we gathered information on such thermal adaptation candidate genes from Drosophila to Homo sapiens from the literature.

From the published evidence, we extracted a set of gene functions that potentially underlie climatic adaptation. We were able to match these with functions that are known from phenotypic thermal adaptation (Wollenberg Valero et al., 2014). Interestingly, the products of these genes (Proteins, RNAs) were found to be functionally related with each other thus forming gene networks within the cellular environment.

The Caribbean Anolis cybotes is widely distributed across Hispaniola, and thrives in hot, xeric environments just as well as in cooler and more humid montane environments. The rift valley of Lago Enriquillo heats up to 40.5 °C (104.9 °F), and a few instances of frost were reported at the highest peak (Pico Duarte at 3,098m elevation) – so population survival across these climatic extremes does not seem to be a trivial endeavor.

Populations of this species show pronounced differences between montane and lowland forms in morphology, physiology, behavior, and perch use (Wollenberg et al., 2013Muñoz et al., 2014), which led us to expect that at least some of this variation should have a genetic basis. Thus, we set up to test whether Anolis cybotes displays any signatures of genomic adaptation to the diverse kinds of environments it inhabits, and whether any genes showing evidence for selection can also be subsumed under the candidate functions we defined previously.

We sampled tissue of these lizards from several high and low elevations (the specimens being the same as in Wollenberg et al., 2013), and looked for variation according to climatic differences via RAD sequencing and subsequent analysis with LFMM. RAD sequencing generates a reduced representation of the target genome, producing thousands of short sequences representing the distribution of the restriction enzyme’s cutting sites throughout the genome. Owing to this property, it cannot be expected that this type of data will necessarily contain “the total set of adaptation genes”; to this effect, detailed genome sequencing is required and such studies have been done in some model organisms (stickleback fish, beech mice, Drosophila, etc.). Continue reading Genomic Signatures of Climate Adaptation in Anolis cybotes

Dying Anoles with Eye Problems in Louisiana


AA reader Jonathan McFarland sent in these disturbing photos with the following remarks:

“I hope you can shed some light on what’s happening to the wild anoles in my Louisiana suburban yard. This week I have found two adolescents with both eyes bleeding or infected. The attached pictures show only one side of the specimens but in each case both eyes appeared as shown. Any info you could provide would be much appreciated.”

Thoughts, anyone?


Anolis Symposium VII to be Held March 17-18, 2018 at Fairchild Botanical Gardens in Miami

IMG_7932 Jamaican giant anole (Anolis garmani) – one of the many non-native anoles you may see in Miami, FL.

In 2018 it will be nearly ten years since the last Anolis symposium was held at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. Given the rapid advances and exciting new discoveries in Anolis biology, it’s time to organize the 7th Anolis symposium! So, with this official announcement, please mark the weekend of March 17-18th 2018 in your calendars to come and visit the wonderfully tropical lizard-world of Miami, FL!

The aim of the symposium is to bring together Anolis biologists from diverse backgrounds to share their excitement and discoveries for these marvelous lizards. In this symposium, we hope to foster cross-disciplinary collaborations of people working with anoles and to broaden our general understanding of their biology and natural history. Miami was chosen not only for its spectacular anole diversity, but because of its ready access to anolologists living outside of mainland United States.

Miami, FL, is an ideal place in the USA to host this meeting! Over the past 100 years, eight species of Caribbean anoles have joined one native species in becoming established in south Florida. This meeting will be held on the weekend of March 17-18th 2018, which broadly overlaps with at least one weekend of the Spring Break holiday for most US schools, and does not conflict with other major meetings as far as we’re aware. We hope that this will facilitate good attendance! The symposium will be held at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens, which is home to a diverse community of exotic lizards, including six (!) species of anoles (read more about them here and on Anole Annals here!).

This post serves as a ‘save the date‘ – stay tuned the Symposium page for more information on conference registration, abstract submission for oral and poster presentations, and article submission for the Anolis Newsletter VII.

12671732_10154152036842074_4486533256117940736_o (2) Puerto Rican crested anoles (A. cristatellus) in Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens

Updates on the Development of Anolis as a “Model Clade” of Integrative Analyses of Anatomical Evolution

Staging series page 1

The first plate from the Sanger et al. (2008) Anolis staging series.

Long time readers of this blog will likely remember the many posts I’ve made trumpeting the utility of anoles for integrative analysis of anatomical diversity, studies that gain perspective from disparate biological fields. The community has come a long way since we published the first staging series of anole embryology only nine years ago. To some this may be old news, but I still find this pace exciting and personally motivating. Decades of ecological and evolutionary studies have created a strong foundation upon which to build new insights about the molecular and developmental underpinnings of anatomical diversity. My lab’s questions boil down to trying to shed light on the developmental origins of adaptive anatomical variation. Otherwise stated, where did the requisite phenotypic variation arise from during the adaptive radiation of anoles. The inherently comparative nature of these studies led me to use anoles as a “model clade,” a group of species that provides the capacity to obtain evolutionary insights the way that “model species” have provided pure developmental biologists and geneticists the power to deduce insights in their areas.

One of the highest hurdles to the progression of Anolis as a model system has been long-term access to living embryos. Although comparative biology is a powerful approach for evolutionary studies, one of the hallmark lessons of modern Evo-devo is the need to experimentally validate the candidate molecular changes associated with anatomical evolution. If I hypothesize that Gene X underlies some phenotypic difference between two species, I must 1) show that it is expressed at the time when the difference arises and 2) somehow tweak the expression of Gene X at that time and in that tissue to show that the changes parallel those observed in nature. To do this you must have access to an embryo in culture, unencumbered from its opaque shell.

Over the past several years several people have been working on ways to gain access to lizard embryos. The first report of a culturing method was by Tschopp et al., who used lentivirus to trace cell migration into the genitalia and limbs. I have not personally been able to consistently replicate those conditions, especially for later embryos. Bonnie Kircher and I, however, recently published two relatively “simple” culturing protocols as part of a new book, Avian and Reptilian Developmental Biology. One of the challenges of earlier culturing attempts was bacterial and fungal growth. As a first step to combatting these invaders, we developed a protocol to sterilize the eggs, soaking the eggs in a weak bleach solution (yes, a literal bleach solution). From there we were off and running.

The first method we describe, following from advice from Raul Diaz, has worked on eggs a few days old to those that are nearly half way through their incubation period. Using a fine pair of scissors, we separate the outer opaque lays of the shell from the inner membranes that surround the embryo and yolk. This bag-of-embryo is then transferred to a small culture dish with a nutrient rich media and drugs to further combat bacterial and fungal contamination. This culturing system has worked well for up to ten days, roughly from the time the limbs are developing digits to the time that the limbs have visible scales on them. (Check out the video!) In principle, this method will allow better access to the embryo for viral injection or the application of small molecule inhibitors that disrupt particular signaling pathways.

Be warned, the second method is a little more Frankensteinian. Because the membranes cover the embryo, visualizing development remains difficult. To circumvent this problem, we developed a protocol where we explant a piece of anole tissue, such as the developing

A developing A. sagrei foot explanting onto a chicken embryo

A developing A. sagrei foot explanting onto a chicken embryo

limb, to a chicken embryo. Both anole and chicken seem to fare well at 33 degrees Celsius, below the standard incubation conditions of the chicken and above that of our anoles. Development appears to proceed normally in the explanted tissue, just as it does would in an embryo within its own shell. These experiments still have a relatively low success rate, but when the explant takes, it works well. To better visualize the tissue for imaging we also stained the tissue with a vital fluorescent dye before the transfer, giving the tissue a wonderful Halloween feel.

The work is far from over. These culturing protocols are just the first step and will not work for all applications. More technically challenging steps especially await those that want to manipulate the anole genome or target distinct patterns of gene expression. This is only the start of what’s to come. For more details about these protocols you can download the chapter here.