Tag Archives: Puerto Rico

SICB 2018 – Are Anoles Adapting to Hot City Environments?

Urbanization, the creation and spread of urban habitats, is increasing across the world. Species that live in these urban habitats are subject to many alterations in their environment, including changes in food, predators, noise, and light among others. One of the most well-known changes associated with cities is the “Urban Heat Island” effect, where city habitats are hotter than surrounding areas due to increases in pavement and other heat-absorbing materials. For lizards such as anoles, living in this hotter environment could be challenging, as increased heat could reduce time available for foraging for food or defending territories, or, in more serious cases, might even lead to death. Shane Campbell-Staton, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois and the University of Montana, decided to test if anoles were adapting to these hot urban environments, and, if so, what mechanisms were driving this adaptation.

Credit: http://www.ecology.com/2013/07/01/summertime-hot-time-in-the-city/

Cities are hotter than the surrounding landscape.

Shane worked with crested anoles (Anolis cristatellus) from four different areas of Puerto Rico that had both urban and nearby natural environments. He and Kristin Winchell, his coauthor, verified that anoles in these urban habitats did indeed experience hotter conditions, and that, as a result, their body temperatures were also higher than anoles from nearby natural areas. In the lab, Shane found that these city anoles were capable of tolerating higher temperatures than their counterparts from natural areas as well. However, after 8 weeks in the lab, anoles from both types of habitats had similar temperature tolerances. Shane also raised offspring from these anoles under common conditions in the lab and found that these offspring had similar temperature tolerances (thermal limits), regardless of whether they came from urban or natural environments. These results show that anoles can have a plastic response to the thermal conditions in their environment, meaning that the differences Shane and Kristin saw in Puerto Rico are induced by an anole’s exposure to temperatures and are not completely determined by their genes.

Crested anoles (Anolis cristatellus) make use of many human-altered habitats.

Crested anoles (Anolis cristatellus) make use of many human-altered habitats. Photo by Andrew Battles.

Shane, however, continued to explore this question: he wanted to know if the ability, or plasticity, of an anole to alter its thermal tolerance in response to exposure to high urban temperatures was due to changes in its genetic structure. In essence, he wanted to know if anoles had evolved a higher responsiveness (or plasticity) in response to inhabiting hotter, city habitats. To get at this, Shane exposed anoles to both hot and normal temperatures in the lab and looked at their levels of gene expression. Using a transcriptomics approach, Shane could see which genes were activated differently when lizards were exposed to temperatures indicative of city and natural habitats. Shane observed differences in variation in the genes in use at these temperatures. He also found higher levels of differentiation between genes involved in thermal adaptation between lizards from city and natural environments. These exciting results show that living in hotter city environments has selected for lizards which are more able to respond to these hot temperatures when they experience them. Shane is continuing to dig deeper into these data to determine which specific genes may have been altered to understand the mechanisms by which lizards are able to alter their heat tolerances. We’re looking forward to seeing these results at a future conference!

On a side note, Shane will be setting up his own lab at UCLA this year, and he’ll be looking for talented graduate students interested in physiology, adaptation, and genomics. Don’t hesitate to look him up!

ESA 2016: Niche Partitioning and Rapid Adaptation of Urban Anoles

Maintaining an already-impressive 2016 conference tour de force which included presentations at both JMIH and Evolution, Kristin Winchell presented a broad summary of her urban anole research in an invite-only Urban Ecology session at ESA 2016.


This presentation provided a synthesis of two large research projects both independently reviewed on Anole Annals (1,2), and so I will provide only a brief summary here. Kristin began by presenting an over-arching question in modern ecology: how is urbanisation going to affect biodiversity? While many may intuitively think of the process negatively, there is a large (and growing) body of research suggesting that many species are able to behaviourally respond to these novel environments and persist. So what about anoles? Kristin focuses her research on two Puerto Rican species: the crested anole (Anolis cristatellus) and the barred anole (A. stratulus).


To do this, Kristin and her team employed multiple methods to explore if a) these two species have differences in their ecology in urban vs. natural areas, b) if differences in ecology are observed, does this lead to differences in morphology, and c) if differences in morphology are observed, is this related to performance? Firstly, niche partitioning between these two species in natural vs. urban areas was investigated (more details here).

novel habitat

This niche partitioning research is new and will be the main body of a manuscript currently in prep so I will keep discussions brief. One species, A. cristatellus, was observed to significantly shift its microhabitat use, which resulted in adaptive shifts in morphology. This research was documented in Winchell et al.’s recent Evolution paper and reviewed previously on AA (1,2,3). Specifically, urban lizards have longer limbs and stickier toepads (higher number of subdigital lamellae) in response to perching on broader, slippier substrates.

phenotypic shifts

This research has now developed on to the next stage of performance-related investigations. Kristin is asking the question of whether these observed morphological shifts lead to better performance (and therefore, presumably, higher fitness). Kristin presented some preliminary results, but keep your eye out for more developments!


JMIH 2016: Phylogeography and Population structure of Anolis cristatellus

Quynh Quach presenting her Master's thesis work at JMIH.

Quynh Quach presenting her Master’s thesis work at JMIH.

Quynh Quach, a master’s student from the Revell Lab at U. Mass. Boston, presented her thesis research on “Phylogeography and Population Structure of Anolis cristatellus on the island of Vieques.” Before Quynh joined the Revell lab, former  post-doc Graham Reynolds and former Losos lab undergraduate Tanner Strickland looked at the phylogeography of Anolis cristatellus across Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands using mitochondrial DNA (in review). Tanner’s work revealed that there was a mitochondrial break on the island of Vieques, just off the coast of Puerto Rico. The mitochondrial data suggested that there were two genetically different groups of A. cristatellus, one on the East and one on the West of Vieques. The only problem was, as we know, mtDNA patterns are not always supported by nuclear whole-genome DNA patterns. In addition, Tanner’s dataset only consisted of 9 samples from Vieques.

When Quynh joined the lab, she wanted to know more about this pattern. Would this division be supported by nuclear genome analyses? Were these lineages anthropogenically introduced? If not, what was the origin of these groups – historical allopatry followed by secondary contact or isolation by distance? So she set out to answer these questions by collecting 300 tail tips from across the island of Vieques, extracting and sequencing both mtDNA and nuclear DNA.

The mtDNA variation shows a strong geographic pattern.

The mtDNA variation shows a strong geographic pattern.

Quynh first constructed a mitochondrial phylogeny to verify the pattern observed by Tanner and Graham. The mtDNA analysis confirmed that there are 2 mtDNA clades on Vieques with strong geographic patterns. The island-wide pattern of mtDNA variation was not what we would expect if anthropogenic introduction were the cause since this would be unlikely to show such a clear East-West pattern with the small contact zone in the middle. So then how did this pattern arise?

2016-07-08 13.39.15

Analysis with K=2 shows two clear groups associated with the East and West.

To answer that question, Quynh next looked at nuclear DNA using RADseq. She sequenced 48 individuals: 5 from Virgin Islands, 6 from Puerto Rico, and 37 from Vieques, then de novo assembled the genome and called 16,808 SNP’s. She ran STRUCTURE and DAPC analyses on this data and found that the Virgin Island samples form 1 cluster and Puerto Rico and Vieques form a second cluster with 4.1% divergence between the groups. But she wondered, what if we look at just Vieques and specify K=2? When she did this with DAPC and saw a clear geographic pattern similar to what she found with the mtDNA. Finally, she tested whether this represented isolation by distance. She found that there was significantly reduced gene flow between geographically distant individuals, supporting this hypothesis as the most likely cause of the variation.

Lastly, Quynh emphasized that it is important to consider multiple genetic markers and not just rely on mtDNA results. Had the group stopped at their original mitochondrial analysis, they would have reached a very different conclusion.

Evolution 2015 Recap

Logo for the Evolution 2015 conference.

Evolution 2015 is officially over and we have all sadly left beautiful Guarujá,  Brazil. There were a lot of great talks and posters and a great representation of South American students and researchers. For coverage on the conference as a whole, check out #evol2015 on twitter! The herps were few and far between (I only saw 2 in my 16 days in Brazil!) but the posters and talks on herps were numerous. Unfortunately, anoles were poorly represented at Evolution this year with only three anole talks and a couple of others that briefly highlighted anoles. If you weren’t able to make it to Brazil, I’ve got the recap for you here.

click to read more about Travis Hagey's research

A glimpse at the variation in gecko toepads

Starting off in one of the first sessions was a talk by Travis Hagey titled “Independent Origins, Tempo, and Mode of Adhesive Performance Evolution Across Padded Lizards.” Although his talk was mostly about geckos, he did shine the spotlight on anoles for a few minutes. He focused on the phylogenetic pattern of toepad adhesion in pad-bearing lizards: geckos, skinks, and anoles. Specifically he looked at how clinging ability (measured as angular detachment – check out one of his videos showing this) varied within and among clades. Unsurprisingly, he found that anoles don’t cling nearly as well as geckos. He also demonstrated that gecko toepad diversification best followed a Brownian motion model with weak OU and anole toepad diversification was best fit by a strong Ornstein–Uhlenbeck process. In other words, gecko toepads diversified slowly over a very long period while anoles were quickly drawn towards an optimum over a short time-period. Travis concluded that these patterns explain why there is a large amount of diversity in gecko toepads but not in anole toepads.

Next up was Joel McGlothlin, who also gave a non-anole talk titled “Multiple origins of tetrodotoxin‐resistant sodium channels in squamates.” Continue reading Evolution 2015 Recap

A. cuvieri 2

Rare(ish) Puerto Rican Anoles

Another Revell Lab (Liam, Kristin, Graham) trip to Puerto Rico this spring, and another series of encounters with the diminutive Anolis occultus and the spectacular Anolis cuvieri. Both of these species can be quite challenging to find, but we have had some good success in several locations in the Puerto Rican karst region.  In January, we observed many individuals of both species


And managed to get a few in-hand for pictures


We also found a juvenile cuvieri, which has a gray coloration and an ontogenetic shift to green as they age:

Unless they happen to be one of the brown morph adults, Continue reading Rare(ish) Puerto Rican Anoles

Anolis Predation, Again

On a recent trip to Puerto Rico, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon an Alsophis portoricensis eating an adult male Anolis cristatellus. I was immediately reminded of Yoel’s post about A. sagrei and a black racer, and decided to set up my video camera. The entire event took about seventeen minutes, but sadly I missed the most interesting part – the capture. For those of you who don’t want to sit through the ten-minute clip, I recommend checking out the 3:50 mark [where the anole has his dewlap extended] and the last 30 seconds or so [to see both an interesting witness to the feeding event and the snake’s attempt to climb the tree after completing its meal].

Hungry for more information on Alsophis feeding behavior, particularly as it relates to anoles? Check out the work by Javier Rodríguez-Robles, Manuel Leal, & Richard Thomas, over at Javier’s home-page here.