SICB 2015: The Ecomorphology of Lygosomine Skinks

As evidenced by the large number of SICB 2015 posts flooding Anole Annals, anoles are very well represented at this year’s meeting.  However,  presentations on other reptilian species have also been abundant. On Sunday afternoon during SICB 2015, Kathleen Foster, a graduate student in Tim Higham’s lab at the University of California, Riverside, presented a poster titled “Ecomorphology of lygosomine skinks: the impact of habitat use on limb length.”

Limb lengths vary dramatically among lyosomine skinks! Figure courtesy of Kathleen Foster.

Limb lengths vary dramatically among lyosomine skinks! Figure courtesy of Kathleen Foster.

Habitat structure plays an extremely important role in shaping the morphology and behavior of animals. Despite the fact that Anolis ecomorphs are one of the most studied and beloved examples of habitat specialization, habitat specialization certainly occurs in other reptile taxa. Foster used lygosomine skinks, a group of lizards that both ecologically and morphologically diverse, to examine the relationship between limb length and microhabitat use. Skinks in this group occupy microhabitats ranging from leaf-litter to cliffs and tree trunks, and the animals themselves can be stocky or elongated, suggesting an ecomorphological relationship. Using morphological data from 103 species of lygosomine skinks, Foster examined the relationship between limb dimensions and habitat use. She found that rock dwelling and arboreal species have longer limbs of equal lengths compared to terrestrial species. However, Foster also found that static stability (an increased distance between the center of mass and the edge of the base of support) did not correlate with habitat use. Foster hypothesized that these longer limbs provide advantages for climbing on curved, vertical surfaces, yet do not offer the additional advantage of increasing stability. In short, differential microhabitat use explains morphological patterns observed in lygosomine skink limbs!

Note: This post was written by Bonnie Kircher, a graduate student studying anole development in Marty Cohn’s lab at the University of Florida.

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