Evolution 2016: Variation in Territorial Aggression in Native and Invasive Populations of the Brown Anole (A. sagrei)


The invasive brown anole A. sagrei is a territorially polygynous species, and male aggressive behavior is an important trait that affects male fitness. Aggressive behavior is quite variable across individuals and populations, and can differ based on intra- and inter-specific community context. As AA regulars know, A. sagrei is also a very successful invasive species; it has been established in southern Florida for decades, and has been steadily spreading north along the gulf coast, colonizing new regions of the US. Populations at the leading edge of the range expansion experience different biotic and abiotic environments than established populations, which can lead to different selective pressures and divergence in relevant traits. Invasive populations of A. sagrei thus provide a good opportunity to explore variation in aggressive display behavior across different ecological contexts.

Julie Wiemerslage decided to take that opportunity and explore the variation in aggressive behavior across different populations of A. sagrei. In her poster “Population Differences in Territorial Aggression in the Invasive Brown Anoles, Anolis sagrei” she proposes the following two hypotheses: 1) Lizards at the leading edge of the range expansion will be more aggressive, allowing them to outcompete other species in their new range 2) Lizards at the leading edge will be less aggressive, because population densities will be lower than areas with established populations.

To test these hypotheses, Wiemerslage collected male lizards from a) native populations, b) well-established invasive populations, and c) recent invasive populations and brought them to the lab for behavioral trials. For each population, she placed pairs of males together in a cage and quantified aggressive behavioral traits including pushups, head bobs, lunges, and dewlap flashes (don’t worry, the lizards were tethered so they couldn’t actually harm one another). She found that aggression was lowest in the leading edge populations, supporting hypothesis 2. Interestingly, the most aggressive populations were the well-established invasive populations, while individuals from the native range showed an intermediate level of aggression. The cause of this pattern is unclear, though Wiemerslage suggests that more information about these source populations (such as density, community composition) will improve our understanding of the factors affecting aggressive behavior.

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