JMIH 2016: Genetic Evidence of Hybridization between the Native Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis) and the Invasive Cuban Green Anole (A. porcatus)

Photo by James Stroud

Photo by James Stroud

At JMIH 2016, I chatted with Johanna Wegener, a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island in Jason Kolbe’s lab, about her poster detailing her work identifying hybridization between Anolis carolinensis and A. porcatus in southern Florida.

Interspecific hybridization in anoles is thought to be fairly rare, with the best-known example being hybridization between Anolis carolinensis (native to the southeastern U.S.) and A. porcatus (native to Cuba) in southern Florida. I was surprised to learn how little we know about this rumored hybrid zone.

A. porcatus was likely introduced into Florida within the last few decades, but the striking morphological similarities between A. carolinesis and A. porcatus make anecdotal reports of hybridization hard to confirm. Wegener conducted the first genetic analyses of hybridization between A. carolinesis and A. porcatus. She genotyped 18 nuclear microsatellites from green anoles in Florida (Palm Beach and South Miami) and western Cuba and conducted a STRUCTURE analysis and found support for three genetic clusters consisting of Cuban A. porcatus, and two Floridian groups (one from Palm Beach and one from South Miami). With the addition of the mitochondrial ND2 marker, she found that the South Miami population had both A. carolinensis and A. porcatus haplotypes. Interestingly, there appeared to be very few recent hybrids; instead, the hybrid group appeared distinct from either parent group, suggesting that hybridization has been occurring for several generations.

In addition, Wegener looked at the variation in A. porcatus and A. carolinensis markers in each hybrid individual and found examples of some parent markers being retained at high proportions in the hybrids, possibly suggesting the retention of beneficial parent alleles in the hybrids.

Given that this study was only conducted at two sites in Florida, the exciting next step of this study is to better quantify the genetic makeup of hybrids across southern Florida and map out the hybrid zone.

4 thoughts on “JMIH 2016: Genetic Evidence of Hybridization between the Native Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis) and the Invasive Cuban Green Anole (A. porcatus)

  1. Hello to Johanna! Nifty stuff! We have 5+ acres on Middle Torch Key, Monroe Co., and summer in Jamestown, RI. We are both URI Ph.Ds. Maybe meet someday? Dr. Kolbe has met us…. I wrote Wildlife of the Florida Keys too many years ago: only A. car. there then.

    1. Hi Skip,
      thanks. Sure, lets meet. I’ll be in RI for most of the summer. I’d love to hear about the book.

  2. Nearly 50 years ago, stimulated in part by the observations of and conversations with Skip Lazell over beers in Cambridge, MA., we began to publish a moderately extensive analysis of interspecific hybridization between two species of Anolis on Trinidad….trinitatis and aeneus.. These species differ in karyotype, and hybrids have a problem in meiosis. Males have reduced testis size and there is greatly reduced fecundity of the hybrid females. There seem to be weak pre-zygotic isolating mechanisms and strong post-zygotic isolating mechanisms. Both species were presumably introduced to Trinidad by accidental human intervention…they are otherwise endemic to two neighboring Lesser Antillean Island banks. They appear to be “good species” in a classical Ernst Mayr sense.
    See for example
    Gorman GC, Atkins L, 1968. Natural hybridization between two sibling species of Anolis lizards: chromosome cytology. Science, 159:1358-1360.

    Gorman GC, Licht P, 1975. Differences between the reproductive cycles of sympatric Anolis lizards on Trinidad. Copeia, 1975:332-337.

    Gorman GC, Licht P, Dessauer HC, Boos JO, 1971. Reproductive failure among the hybridizing Anolis lizards on Trinidad. Systematic Zoology, 20:1-18.

    Gorman GC, Yang SY, 1975. A low level of backcrossing between the hybridizing Anolis lizards of Trinidad. Herpetologica, 31:196-198.

    Is there any observational or experimental evidence that Cuban porcatus and North American carolinensis behave as “good species”. Are there any behavioral, physiological, or genetic attributes to suggest that the two populations will not freely exchange genes via hybridization? That is, are these long isolated and diverging populations of what still might be considered a single species?

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