Readers of the Anole Annals know that the Caribbean radiation of Anolis is a classic example of evolutionary convergence: different ecomorphs have evolved repeatedly on islands in the Greater Antilles and show convergent microhabitat use and morphology. Thus, anoles are a great candidate with which to test a different type of evolutionary convergence: convergence in the physiological mechanisms underlying behavior. If anoles do show convergence in these traits, then there should be a common relationship between physiology and behavior across distantly related species. If not, then different species are using different mechanisms to achieve similar functional outcomes. Michele Johnson of Trinity University addressed this question using a comparative approach in her talk, “The Evolution of Muscle Physiology and Social Behavior in Caribbean Anolis Lizards.”
Johnson’s study focused on two different behaviors: copulation rate and dewlap rate. To quantify these rates, she first collected over 1,000 hours of behavioral observations on adult males across nine different species of anole. To address the mechanistic basis of copulation behavior, she then measured the sizes of the seminiferous tubules, renal sex segments, hemipenes, and retractor penis magnus (RPM, the muscle controlling hemipene retraction). Using phylogenetically independent contrasts, she found a significant positive correlation between the mean species rate of copulation and the mean species size of the RPM, but not with any other trait. Thus, species that copulate more frequently tend to have a larger muscle controlling hemipene retraction. This result supports the hypothesis that the size of a structure is related to how frequently it’s used.
To quantify the mechanistic basis of dewlap extension, she next measured the size and muscle fiber composition of the ceratohyoid muscle (which controls dewlap extension) and androgen receptor expression. There was no correlation between ceratohyoid muscle size or fiber composition and dewlap rate. However, there is preliminary support from four species for an association between androgen receptor expression and dewlap rate. This supports the hypothesis that higher sensitivity to the sex hormone testosterone increases dewlap rate. As the project proceeds, there are plans to add a fourth measure, size of the neuromuscular junction to the study, as well as increase the number of species included.
In conclusion, there appear to be some common physiological mechanisms underlying behavior across the Anolis radiation; however, there are also many physiological traits that may be employed differently among species in the production of behavior.