At last night’s poster session, undergraduate Derek Briggs (U. Mass. Boston) presented findings from his senior capstone project in which he looked at several traits related to dominance and health. Using a dataset of x-rays and dewlap photos collected over a 4 year period from various urban and forest sites across Puerto Rico (by Kristin Winchell), Derek looked at body size, body condition, dewlap size, and injury rates (broken bones and missing digits) to see if there was a difference in frequency between urban and forest habitats.
Derek and his co-authors chose these traits because they thought they might be impacted by shifts in lizard density and distribution in the urban habitat which may lead to increased male-male competition. Specifically, in urban habitats, lizards tend to perch closer to one another because the potential perches are more clustered. This increase in local density could lead to increased encounter rates and fights over optimal perch sites, food resources, or mates. Derek hypothesized that this shift in distribution should lead to shifts in these traits, although he did not have a prediction about the direction of these shifts.
Derek found that urban lizards were consistently larger than forest lizards in terms of snout-vent-length (SVL) but that body condition (mass~SVL) did not consistently differ between sites. Although all paired populations had significant differences in body condition, in some municipalities lizards were fatter in urban habitats and in some they were fatter in forests. In terms of dewlap size, Derek did not find any significant trends, although he still has quite a few dewlap photos to analyze still, so stay tuned!
In terms of injuries, Derek did not find significant differences between forest and urban animals for bone breaks or missing digits. However, these are rare events to begin with, so it is possible that a much larger sample size is needed to detect a difference. His findings do suggest a trend of more bone breaks in urban populations, and more missing digits in forest populations. He attributes this trend to either elevated male-male competition in urban habitats or differences in predator communities.
We look forward to seeing the full results from Derek’s honors thesis.