Bright and early on the last day of the annual Evolution meeting, James Stroud (Florida International University) presented his work on character displacement in novel communities of introduced anoles in Miami. In this elegant use of a natural experiment, James looked at the novel co-existence of two anoles in their introduced range and wondered if character displacement was occurring as predicted when two ecologically similar species are found in sympatry. Specifically, James wanted to know if Anolis cristatellus and Anolis sagrei would shift their habitat use when in sympatry, resulting in correlated shifts in morphology. These species are both trunk-ground anoles of roughly the same body size. They are native to Cuba/Bahamas and Puerto Rico (respectively) and are diverged by ~50 million years.
James hypothesized that in their introduced range in Florida, these two species would diverge ecologically in sympatry but be more similar in allopatry. He found that in allopatry, both species attained similar relative abundances and perched at similar heights. However, in sympatry, both decline in relative abundance suggesting that these species are interacting strongly with one another. Even more interesting, in sympatry A. sagrei perches lower and spends more time on the ground than it does in allopatry, while A. cristatellus perches higher!
Next James hypothesized that these ecological shifts could lead to shifts in morphology. If A. sagrei is spending more time on the ground, perhaps longer limbs would be favored. Similarly, if A. cristatellus is spending more time higher up in the trees, perhaps there would be selection for stickier toepads. As predicted, A. sagrei had longer forelimbs and hindlimbs in sympatry. However, he did not find any difference in toepad morphology between sympatric and allopatric populations of A. cristatellus. Instead, he observed that A. cristatellus in sympatry with A. sagrei had significantly smaller heads.
James ended by wondering if alternative behavioral and social mechanisms may drive these observed shifts in head morphology. Either way, this case study provides an interesting insight into how a complex range of adaptive responses can result from a seemingly simple ecological interaction.