SICB 2015: Anoles in the Big City! Urban Environments and Predator Escape Behaviors

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Anolis cristatellus in Miami, Florida. Picture by Jason Kolbe.

Humans and wildlife are sharing the same spaces more and more frequently, but there’s still much that we do not know about how animal behavior is altered in urban environments. To address these questions, graduate student Kevin Avilés-Rodriguez (pictured below) and Dr. Jason Kolbe of the University of Rhode Island studied the responses of Anolis cristatellus to simulated predators in urban and natural environments in Puerto Rico. They found that lizards in an urban habitat had shorter flight initiation distances (the distance a simulated predator – in this case, Kevin – could approach before the lizard fled) than in a natural, forested site.  In addition, lizards’ predator-escape behaviors generally corresponded to the sizes of their perches and to their proximity to vegetation, but perch types differed between the urban and natural sites.  Whereas lizards in natural habitats tended to jump into nearby plants to escape, urban lizards tended to avoid capture by squirreling on larger, more isolated perches.  Kevin also reported that lizards perching on cement walls had adjusted their predator responses dramatically, as they generally did not jump or squirrel. In sum, this study suggests that habituation to humans and/or human-shaped habitats have altered the responses of these lizards to potential predators in important ways.

Kevin Aviles, stalking lizards in the field. Photo from Kolbe lab website.

Kevin Aviles, stalking lizards in the field. Photo from Kolbe lab website.

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