Evolution 2016: Using Anoles to Understand Shifts in Forests

2016-06-18 19.20.32

Ivan Prates presents his poster at Evolution 2016.

Here at Evolution 2016 there have been a lot of anole talks and posters. In fact, there have even been several that pretend to not actually be about anoles. Ivan Prates presented a poster which he insisted, despite multiple pictures of anoles and the use of anole DNA, was not actually about anoles… Instead, this poster was actually about the historical extent of Brazilian forest cover (or so he says).

In short, Ivan used genomic data to understand historical patterns of dispersion and distribution of South American anoles in order to infer patterns of rainforest expansion and contraction. He suspected that the geological data gave a false interpretation of rainforest patterns in Amazonia and the Atlantic Forest in Brazil, and that anoles could help tell the true story of how the forests have changed over time. By looking at species with strong genetic signals associated with forest shifts he hypothesized that true forest patterns could be elucidated based on the historical demography of these species.

Ivan and coauthors looked at three species of lizards: Anolis punctatusAnolis ortonii, and Polychrus marmoratus. They used the next-generation sequencing technique Genome by Sequencing (GBS) to answer three main questions: (1) Did all 3 species experience range expansions simultaneously? (2) Did populations expand and contract at similar points in time? (3) How did population sizes vary over time? While all three of these questions are about anoles, don’t forget that this poster was actually about the forest.

Ivan found that the Atlantic Forest individuals composed a monophyletic group nested within the Amazonian lineage. This suggests that the anoles of the Atlantic Forest on the coast actually arose from a single colonization event from Amazonia. The land between Amazonia and the Atlantic forest is presently quite arid compared to the rainforest – more like grassland. This presumably forms a barrier to contemporary dispersal, which implies that historical dispersal must have involved greater habitat connectivity. So Ivan’s results support the hypothesis that the forests experienced a drastic historical expansion creating a contiguous habitat that enabled dispersal around 1 million years ago. Interestingly, the timing for the dispersal of all 3 species was approximately the same. A million years ago seems to have been the ideal time to move to the coast for Brazilian anoles.

Ivan and his colleagues also looked at how populations size changed over time. He found that whereas Anolis punctatus experienced a trend of population expansion, Anolis ortonii and Polychrus marmoratus experienced population contractions. It was surprising to the authors that these species did not respond the same – why did only one of the species experience population expansions? They suspected that the expansion of one species might be related to the population contractions of the others, perhaps because of competition. However, their analysis on synchrony of population trends proved otherwise. They found that although trends within species were synchronized across populations, between species the shifts in demography were asynchronous. In other words, when one species expanded or contracted in population size, the others were stable. Ivan concluded that this was support for the idea that these populations were not influencing each other and that instead there was some other factor independently controlling population size fluctuations – perhaps precipitation patterns.

In conclusion, Ivan told me a lot about the demography of anoles during the Quaternary, and a little about the forest. I look forward to hearing more about his “forest” research on these understudied mainland anoles!

Click for a larger version of Ivan's poster!

Click for a larger version of Ivan’s poster!

About Kristin Winchell

I'm a Ph.D. candidate at UMass Boston in the Revell lab. I am interested in how animals respond to urbanization from an ecological and evolutionary perspective. My dissertation research has focused on adaptive shifts in the Puerto Rican crested anole, Anolis cristatellus, in response to urbanization. Website: http://kmwinchell.wordpress.com

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