Evolution 2019: Miscellanea

There have been lots of posts on the many great anole papers and posters at Evolution 2019, but here are a few of the non-scientific anole-related items from the meetings.

First, a group of anolologists gathered at Trattoria Zooma on Federal Hill for lunch, where we feasted on Neapolitan specialties. Thanks to Nick Herrmann for picking the restaurant!


Anolologists gathered at Trattoria Zooma on Federal Hill, Providence, RI, for lunch on 24 June 2019.

Left side, front to back: Sofia Prado-Irwin, Todd Jackman, Jonathan Losos, Greg Mayer, Hannah Frank, Ambika Kamath, Ian Wang, Nick Herrmann. Right side, front to back: Ivan Prates, Chris Schneider, Liam Revell, Kevin AvilésRodriguezBrian Langerhans, Jason Kolbe, Kristin Winchell, Emmanuel D’Agostino.

And, a closer look at Kristin Winchell’s absolutely fabulous Anolis lineatopus dress, which has already been noted.

20190624_124227Kristin also produced a set of attractive anole (pus one boa) stickers, which she was handing out during her poster session.


And finally, huge props to Jonathan Huie. He gave a nice talk on the ecomorphology of mainland anoles, but what I want to highlight here is that he did so under the most dire circumstances: not just afternoon of the last day, but his slides wouldn’t project! The modern equivalent of the old overturned slide carousel, Jonathan handled the absence of his visuals with aplomb, calmly opening his talk and introducing his topic before a blank screen, as technicians scurried to resuscitate the projection system.

When it seemed that the technicians would fail, I decided to document Jonathan’s admirable handling of the situation, but as I brought out and readied my camera, the slides finally appeared, so the photo below shows Jonathan with one of his slides. (Note the technician still at the podium, and that’s Ivan Prates and Kevin de Queiroz in the slide with Jonathan.) It was 5 minutes into his talk before the slides worked– an eternity for a 12 minute talk with 2 minutes for questions. Jonathan’s an undergraduate, but dealt with adversity like a pro!


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SICB 2019: Large Immune Challenges Do Not Decrease Performance


Christine Rohlf from the University of St. Thomas presents her research on immune-performance tradeoffs

Traveling to SICB is always exciting, but like any trip through crowded airports, hotels, and convention centers, you’re more likely to get sick during your travel if you’re not careful. As we all know, getting a travel-cold (or worse) makes you feel terrible and certainly doesn’t make you want to run on a treadmill! The same is likely true in wild animals, including anoles. Mounting immune responses is energetically expensive, but so are other things that lizards have to do, like forage, escape predators, and process food. So, does an increasingly large immune challenge decrease a lizard’s ability to perform? Christine Rohlf, an undergraduate student in Jerry Husak’s lab at the University of St. Thomas wanted to find out in green anoles.

Christine designed a laboratory experiment to determine whether two types of immune challenge, alone and in combination, decreased bite-force performance, sprint speed, or endurance capacity compared to controls. Some lizards received two sequential injections of lipopolysaccharide (LPS), some received a skin wound with a biopsy punch, and some received both. LPS is a signal on gram-negative bacteria that, when injected, tricks the body into thinking it is infected with bacteria. So, you get an immune response, but you don’t actually get an infection.

Surprisingly, none of the immune challenges affected sprint speed or endurance compared to controls. Although the lizards were not calorie-restricted, they were on a modest diet, meaning that energy was limited, but clearly not enough to make a difference. Apparently these two immune challenges aren’t as costly as we thought. The only affect that Christine found was that the second LPS injection significantly decreased bite force. Because bite force is likely the least energetically expensive trait of those measured (imagine running until you’re exhausted versus biting into a hard piece of French bread), Christine suspects that the decrease in bite force was due to a lack of motivation while feeling sick. Future work with calorie-restricted lizards should tell us if mounting an immune challenge is a significant cost to anoles.

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SICB 2019: Tail Autotomy Happens More When the Tail Stores More Energy


Amy Payne of Trinity University presents her research on tail autotomy in 7 lizard species.

One of the most interesting features of many lizards, including anoles, is that they can willingly, and actively, lose their tails to escape predators. While it might seem counterintuitive to lose a large body part, it’s better than being eaten! Despite the obvious benefit of surviving another day, there are some costs associated with tail autotomy.

Amy Payne, a student in Michele Johnson’s lab at Trinity University of San Antonio, wanted to know whether the frequency of tail loss across 7 species was associated with predatory and social use of the tail as well as energetic content of the tail. For those that anole-inclined (which is why you’re here), Amy included A. cristatellus and A. carolinensis. She caught and measured hundreds of lizards, and made behavioral observations on them as well. She was then able to quantify how many lizard of each species had a lost/regenerated tail, as well as what proportion of each tail was lost.

Surprisingly, frequency of tail loss was not associated with using the tail in a social or predatory context. However, using there was an association between these two functions of the tail: species that used their tail for predatory use more also used their tail in social contexts more. There was no relationship between the frequency of tail lost and the proportion of the tail that was lost on average across species. But she did find some really cool results when looking at energetic content of the tail. Amy found that there was a significant positive relationship between frequency of tail loss and tail energy content. That is, the more energy that lizards have in their tails, the more frequently individuals in that species will have a lost/regenerated tail. While this seems opposite to what one might casually predict, Amy hypothesizes that the predator-distraction to survive function of tail autotomy is more likely to succeed if the tail is larger and more beneficial to the predator. In other words, if a lizard has a scrawny tail and drops it off for a predator, it is more advantageous for the predator to ignore the low-cal tail and just eat the lizard. This would put selection on species with low-energy content tails to be more prudent about when they drop their tails. These really interesting results open up some exciting areas for future research on the costs and benefits of tail autotomy!

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Why most Caribbean Anolis species are endemic to a single island?

One of the most interesting patterns in the insular anole radiation is the observation that the majority of species are single-island endemics (150 of out 166 species). This observation in the Caribbean anole lizards has been known from a while and several studies have attempted to establish the underlying causes of this striking pattern (e.g., 1, 2, 3).

In a recent study, as part of my PhD dissertation, I used a different approach to try to understand why most of these species are unable to colonize other islands. I used a recently developed conceptualization to link abundances and ecological niche requirements at coarse-grain scales, this approach has been developed in the lab of my advisor (see 4, 5, 6; but see 7, 8, 9 for discussions and counter-examples; this approach has been strongly debated in the literature in the last years).

We used ecological niche modeling -ENM- to predict species’ distributions across all Caribbean islands for each species with at least 10 occurrence records. We estimated the position of each pixel predicted as presence in the ecological space using Euclidean distances. In short, we characterize all pixels for a single species and calculated which of these were close to the niche centroid (which we assume as the best conditions for species presence) and which were close to the niche periphery (see Figure 1). We predicted that pixels predicted by ENM as presences within each native island will be more close to the niche centroid and those predicted as presences in other islands will be in the periphery of the niche.



Figure 1. Available climatic space showing the position of each pixel predicted from ecological niche modeling across islands.

We found that many species follow the predicted pattern; in other words, we found that the “best” niche conditions are in the native islands regardless of climatic heterogeneity observed in each island and the “worst” niche conditions are outside native islands. We also used other metrics to corroborate our results. We interpreted these results as  instances of recent climatic niche conservatism (within lineages) and therefore this operates as a constraint in the ability of each species to colonize other islands (i.e. due to the low suitable climatic conditions for successful population establishment). We only gathered data for 70 species and therefore it will be necessary more data and more studies (including physiological experiments) to corroborate our assertions.

Also, we examined the pattern of realised climatic niche shifts across the anole radiation and we found evidence of several instances of climatic niche convergence. We concluded that anoles evolved to occupy different portions of the climate space and in several cases evolved quickly to occupy some portions of this space (e.g., cold climatic conditions) and recently most of these species likely adapted very well to climatic conditions in its native islands.

The paper was published here:


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Genomic signatures of climate adaptation in Anolis cybotes

Katharina Wollenberg Valero & Ariel Rodríguez

Thermal adaptation is the evolution of the ability to persist in novel thermal environments. Phenotypic characters that allow such adaptation, as well as the resulting shifts in the geographic distributions of species, are an emerging field of study in the midst of a changing global climate. Yet, the genomic basis of such phenotypic adaptation is less well understood, so recent efforts of evolutionary biologists are now aiming at one emerging question: Which genes determine thermal adaptation, and are these the same across different populations and species? Luckily, Anolis is yet again at the forefront of novel discoveries being made in this field (see Campbell-Staton et al., 2017).

Many studies have independently identified genes that are responding to changes in the thermal environment; be it through change of expression under an acute stress, or through changes in the DNA sequence as evolutionary response. In 2014, we gathered information on such thermal adaptation candidate genes from Drosophila to Homo sapiens from the literature. From the published evidence, we extracted a set of gene functions that potentially underlie climatic adaptation. We were able to match these with functions that we predicted from our observations of phenotypic thermal adaptation  (Wollenberg Valero et al., 2014). Interestingly, the products of these genes (Proteins, RNAs) were found to be functionally related with each other thus forming gene networks within the cellular environment.

The Caribbean Anolis cybotes is widely distributed across Hispaniola, and thrives in hot, xeric environments just as well as in cooler and more humid montane environments. The rift valley of Lago Enriquillo heats up to 40.5 °C (104.9 °F), and a few instances of frost were reported at the highest peak (Pico Duarte at 3,098m elevation) – so population survival across these climatic extremes does not seem to be a trivial endeavor.


Anolis cybotes, female from Barahona, Dominican Republic

Populations of this species show pronounced differences between montane and lowland forms in morphology, physiology, behavior, and perch use (Wollenberg et al., 2013, Muñoz et al., 2014), which led us to expect that at least some of this variation should have a genetic basis. Thus, we set up to test whether Anolis cybotes displays any signatures of genomic adaptation to the diverse kinds of environments it inhabits, and whether any genes showing evidence for selection can also be subsumed under the candidate functions we defined previously.

We sampled tissue of these lizards from several high and low elevations (the specimens being the same as in Wollenberg et al., 2013), and looked for variation according to climatic differences via RAD sequencing and subsequent analysis with LFMM. RAD sequencing generates a reduced representation of the target genome, producing thousands of short sequences representing the distribution of the restriction enzyme’s cutting sites throughout the genome. Owing to this property, it cannot be expected that this type of data will necessarily contain “the total set of adaptation genes”; to this effect, detailed genome sequencing is required and such studies have been done in some model organisms (stickleback fish, beech mice, Drosophila, etc.). With our study design, however, we could trace signatures of selection as climate-related changes in the allelic frequencies in the fragments that were sequenced. We identified a total of 84 SNPs with statistical signatures of selection and 14 of these matched protein-coding genes on different chromosomes of the Anolis carolinensis genome (the best available reference). Not surprisingly, our data set and analysis did not “hit” any major known candidate genes for thermal adaptation, but we made another discovery. Most of the genes that we did identify as having adapted to the different climatic environments in Anolis cybotes populations perform the set of previously predicted gene functions that we had predicted in 2014  (Rodríguez et al., 2017).

Rodriguez_Fig 4_crop

The figure shows  candidate gene functions for thermal adaptation that we predicted in 2014 and now verified in Anolis cybotes.

Moreover, the newly identified genes were also in close functional connection with each other, and with many of the previously predicted genes, formed a tightly knit functional network. Some forays into tissue expression databases further revealed that many of these genes are also expressed in brain, and during early development.

Due to the fact that we couldn’t scan the entire genome of Anolis cybotes (so far unknown), we may have missed part of the story. However, it is encouraging that at least one of the genes adapting to different climatic environments in the green anole, A. carolinensis, also has one of the functions we predicted (vasodilation, constriction and regulation of blood pressure, Campbell-Staton et al., 2016).

Phenotypic adaptation to climate can happen in several different ways and we are yet only scratching the surface of the genetic basis of this phenomenon. For reptiles, their thermoregulatory behavior, water balance in hot climates, freeze tolerance, and anti-oxidative strategies seem to be the most important eco-physiological challenges (Storey and Storey, 2017), and we deem it likely that changes in a multitude of genes are contributing to these adaptive responses. Our study provides evidence that climate adaptation on the genomic level is constrained to specific organismal functions and biochemical pathways, which may underpin the observed molecular and phenotypic differences. The definitive answer to the question on whether the same set of genes underlie climatic adaptation across populations and species, is yet to be found; but the study of the functional connections between genes can be very informative for this endeavor.

 You can read our full paper here (open access)

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Anolis sagrei plays dead

In previous post, Hispanioland shows us a picture of the fake dead behavior by Anolis distichus. This year I breed my pair of Anolis sagrei and I have several offsprings.

I can see that this behavior is rather common among the offsprings, and I partially film it in the following video. I didn’t see the same behavior in my others anoles species. Maybe only for trunk-ground species?

In which species did you see this behavior ?

In this case, the offspring begins to stiffen, twists and falls to the ground. The opens his mouth and stops breathing. The limbs are tense as a dead person. When young sent back safety (some seconds later) the individual’s “awakening”.

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Anolis sagrei plays dead

In previous posts, Hispanioland shows us a picture of the fake dead behavior. This year I breed my pair of Anolis sagrei and I have several offsprings.

I can see that this behavior is rather common among the offsprings, and I partially film it in this vidéo. I didn’t see the same behavior in my others anoles species, maybe only for trunk-ground species?

In which species did you see this behavior?

In this case, the offspring begins to stiffen, twists and falls to the ground. Then opens his mouth and stops breathing. The limbs are tense as a dead person. When young sent back safety (some seconds later) the individual’s “awakening”.

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Anolis sagrei plays dead

In previous posts, Hispanioland shows us a picture of the fake dead behavior. This year I breed my pair of Anolis sagrei and I have several offsprings.

I can see that this behavior is rather common among the offsprings, and I partially film it in this vidéo. In this case the offspring starts to stiffen, twists, and drops to the ground. Then opens his mouth and stops breathing. The limbs are tense as a dead individual.
A few seconds see minutes later, the individual of “awakening”.

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ID Grass anole

Hi anoles enthusiast!
It’s a recurrent problem in pet shop, the identification of the animals which are less common.
In France a pet shop announce “Anolis hendersoni” for this anole? I need your opinion, in my mind it’s an Anolis semilineatus.

anolis anolis .

Thank youfor your interest

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I have heard of the use of sticky traps for studying lizards, though a colleague told me they seem to be of uncertain safety for anoles, as his recapture records were almost nonexistant.

This morning we gave up the “bio-warfare” of feline infantry to a recent rodent invader to the house, and had to put this trap last night inside the house, this morning finding the intruder caught in it (juvenile Rattus sp.), but the domestic service lady put it for a minute in the backyard when not long after an Anolis distichus was also caught, probably in the seek of captured flies (see photos). She  then called me and I used an old trick, pouring (vegetable) oil in the prey in order to make it come loose from the glue.IMG_1444

Could the oil create a thermic or clinging capability problem to the lizard? It obviously forms a coating above scales, hence I rubbed it with napkins and then placed it back to its favorite microhabitat (trunk bark) for it to bask and recovery.


The lizard (38 mm SVL) was toe-clipped and marked in the belly and put back to the backyard. Hopefully we can have a recapture in some days (if cats and sparrows don’t get it first)


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Eye of the tiger green anole

In that classic of American cinema, Rocky III, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) employed a particularly cunning strategy during the climactic fight with the younger, stronger Clubber Lang (Mr.T): he used his face to repeatedly absorb all of Clubber’s most powerful blows until Clubber grew very tired. Rocky’s strategy worked, and Clubber, fatigued from what seemed like hours of savagely beating Rocky in the head, ultimately succumbed to one of the relatively few punches Rocky managed to land.

Repeat until World Champion

Repeat until World Champion

Now you might suspect that Rocky III’s inspiring message of never giving up being punched in the face would have few adherents in the animal world, and you would be right. In most cases of male-male combat, combatants are reluctant to enter into escalated physical altercations because the risk of injury to themselves is too high. Instead, males of many animal species have evolved ritualized aggressive signals or displays aimed at intimidating their opponents into withdrawing, and will turn to violence only as a last resort when all else has failed. But some species have adopted the spirit of Rocky’s strategy, if not the letter, and rely on persistence to outlast as opposed to outfight their opponents.

A new study by Wilczynski et al. shows that Anolis carolinensis (the undisputed greatest study organism in the world) may use persistence as part of its fighting strategy as well. Adult male green anoles establish dominance hierarchies initially through aggressive interactions, and the outcomes of these interactions figure 2are affected by a variety of behavioural, physiological and morphological factors, many of which are likely reflected in the pattern and intensity of their ritualized aggressive displays. Wilczynski et al. set up staged aggressive interactions between pairs of adult males in the laboratory and tested whether males that responded faster or for longer to behavioural challenges were more likely to win fights. They also noted the colour state, as well as the presence of post-orbital eyespots, of winners and losers, both of which have been the subject of previous discussion on Anole Annals. The authors found that for the measured types of display, future dominant individuals generally displayed more frequently, and continued to display for longer than future subordinate individuals, whereas the effects of latency to display on competitive outcomes is less clear. With regard to colour, despite some intriguing trends there were no significant differences between dominants and subordinates in any aspect of post-orbital eyespot expression. However, future dominant individuals did remain bright green for longer throughout the interactions than did future subordinates, supporting earlier suggestions that dark brown colouration is linked to subordinate social status and/or stress.

While persistence is a key component of contest behaviour in many animal species, the apparent importance of persistence in display duration in particular is especially interesting within the context of lizard displays. For example, duration of sagittal compression has previously been suggested as a handicap display in Uta stansburiana lizards, and previous studies have also suggested that persistence, perhaps related to accumulation of metabolic costs, might also dictate male contest outcomes in green anoles. Despite the wealth of knowledge regarding male green anole displays, studies such as Wilcynski et al.’s show that we still have much to learn regarding the behavioural aspects of male combat in this species, not to mention the likely relationships between behaviour and physiology.

Rocky III was unjustly spurned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1983, not even receiving a nomination in the category of best picture (Ghandi won that year for some reason). Even more outrageous, it didn’t win the Best Original Song category it was nominated in! (Would anyone seriously argue that “Up Where We Belong” is a better song than “Eye of the Tiger”? Because it isn’t, and you are wrong). In retrospect, the reason for this travesty is clear: persistence is an important part of animal fighting strategies, and Rocky III was actually a nature documentary.

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Albino anole

A very rare picture of an albino anole. I searched on a lot of websites, but found no information.

The albinos specimens have an life esperance relatively short (the photo shows a just hatched individuals) , either they are eaten because they are too much visible by the predators, or they couldn’t eat because they are too visible by the preys.
The percentage of the albinos relative the normal specimen is of one case for 100 000.

Depending on the species, this percentage can be more or less important.

Back to the anoles, unlike nocturnal reptiles for which light color is not an important problem, for our anoles which using a lot the light (it is for heating, have bright colors, use lights during parades / dominations), it is a huge problem.

The track that could be to follow is to copy the keeping of the albino alligators in zoos. Some of these zoos keep these crocodilians in total darkness! … but the anoles can’t see very well in the dark. The keeping of albino anoles does not really seem possible.

Sorry for the mistakes.

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A Giant’s Snack

Even with their large size, and spending some time in the field, it is somewhat difficult to spot a Giant Anole in Hispaniola. The most spread and common species (at least in the Dominican side) is A. baleatus, which is not an usual sight at the mesic riparian forest of “Gran Cañada” in botanical garden of Santo Domingo. But even there, sightings are just limited by spotting an animal right after it moves to hide away of view (squirreling or slowly sliding around tree trunks). This population seems to be stable and not pursued by humans, whom locally have the believe that they are harmful.

Regarding a local species, A. barahonae, the first encounter I had with this species was back in 2003, southwest of Barahona, when I saw at the distance with the help of binoculars, a White-necked Crow (Corvus leucognaphalus) holding one it its beak. This crow is a canopy and flock forager, so it is to suppose that they represent a coomon predator to that anole species.

 After that encounter, just a few more were seen, basking in a large tree in a coffee plantation, also a epiphyte-packed tree in a coud forest. This time we were exploring some rivers in the Paraiso watershed, SW Barahona, in a tributary that pours into river Paraiso. Along the road while taking photos to a basking Ameiva taeniura, I heard the some noise coming from a nearby Cecropia tree. Then I spotted the wingbeating of a Sphingid Moth, that was already in the mouth of a Baoruco Giant Anole. The anole kept still while holding prey, with tail hanging outwards of the leaves where it was perched. 



Unfortunately, I didn’t see the action before the attack, but as seen in the pictures, the death Cecropia leaves was probably the perch that the moth used to spend the day. A nocturnal species, it is likely that it was inmobile siting there just realying in its criptic coloration and pattern. In an earlier post (http://www.anoleannals.org/2011/09/20/anolis-cuvieri-on-the-prowl/), some excellent photographs by fellow naturalist Father Sanchez, showed a Puerto Ricon Giant deliberately moving in moderate heights and in several kind of perches. I often imagine that they would take their prey mostly up in the canopy or high in tree trunk, but these photograhs of the A. barahonae eating this moth were taken at a height of 3 meters, in the death leaf hanging on a small cluster of vines attaching the 5-6 meters Cecropia tree to a even shorter tree. Previous to when I heard the sounds coming from the attack, I didn’t notice any motion in the area as I was pretty close. The anole may have stalked or more likely forage and scan this (unusual?) substrate in search of prey.



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Anoles and the IUCN

Anoles are well known for a lot of reasons, but conservation is not one of them.  Possibly because of the abundance, hardiness, and visibility of the more common anole species, the group as a whole is often regarded as one that’s doing just fine.  To date, very few specific efforts have been made to assess the conservation status of anole species.*

Anole species vary, of course, in how they’re doing.  Although species such as Anolis cristatellus, cybotes, and limifrons seem to occur on every perch across broad distributions, species like A. fowleri and A. megalopithecus have only been located a handful of times in the wild despite some considerable efforts. Dozens more species are known from just a single locality, where they may or may not be locally abundant.  While a lot of rare or little-known anoles may simply be secretive or geographically restricted, some are very clearly endangered.

In Haiti, for example, Anolis eugenegrahami, darlingtoni, rupinae, and rimarum are all restricted to montane habitats with intact forest. These habitats have all but disappeared from the mountains of Haiti, and the fates of these species become less certain each year (see coverage here, here, and here). The same can be said for A. amplisquamosus of Honduras (it’s only known from a small area within which suitable habitat is rapidly disappearing; Townsend 2006, Townsend et al. 2006), and is likely true for many other poorly known species.  Several such anoles are at very high risk of extinction, and there have been virtually no coordinated efforts to conserve them.

The Haitian Cascade Anole, Anolis eugenegrahami, in its natural habitat

Deforestation for charcoal production, about 100 meters from one of the only known populations of A. eugenegrahami

With these and other issues in mind, we sent a proposal to Species Survival Commission of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN SSC) to form a specialist group dedicated to anoline lizards: the Anoline Lizard Specialist Group (ALSG).  This proposal was a long time in coming.  The idea arose from discussions about threatened anoles at the 2009 Anolis Symposium at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.  We tested the waters by suggesting the formation of an SSC Specialist Group in a short article in the 6th Anolis Newsletter.  Receiving a positive response, we wrote a Specialist Group proposal and submitted it to the IUCN SSC in early 2011.

In Fall 2011 we heard the fantastic news that the ALSG had been formally approved!  We’ve been working to put the group together since then, and this weekend we sent out our first round of membership letters.

In this post, we wanted to (1) share this news, and (2) briefly describe what the ALSG is, and what our goals are for the next couple of years.

IUCN SSC Specialist Groups are taxon or issue-specific working groups that provide the IUCN and the world at large with objective expert appraisals of the conservation status of groups of organisms or habitats. They also develop Species Conservation Strategies for species identified as threatened.  Our goals as a specialist group will be to assess the conservation status of Anolis species, identify threats to these lizards, and to develop plans to conserve the species that are most imperiled through international collaboration. During the next 2 years, most of our activities will be focused on conducting IUCN Red List assessments for all unassessed species of Anolis (~300). We will rely on our members, as well as their students and colleagues, to conduct and review these assessments according to IUCN protocols (Greg Mayer, of the University of Wisconsin, Parkside, will help coordinate this work as the ALSG Red List Focal Point). As we progress towards this goal, we will increasingly shift our focus to developing Species Conservation Strategies for threatened anoline lizards.

The ALSG is a volunteer group, and all of this work will be done by the coordinated efforts of the anole community.  One of the key motivating factors for the creation of the ALSG was the existence of such a vibrant community (as evidenced by the long tradition of Anolis Newsletters, and, of course, Anole Annals).  People working on anoles have been very enthusiastic to contribute to these endeavors, and we hope to harness some of this enthusiasm to help conserve anoles.

If you’re interested in these issues, and if you’d like to participate, we’d love to hear from you. We’d be particularly excited to recruit people with experience conducting IUCN assessments, or with experience in applied conservation, but we’re happy to hear from anyone who wants to help.

With this in mind, we wanted to say a few things about membership within the ALSG.  As with all Specialist Groups, membership to the ALSG is granted via appointment by the group co-chairs (that’s us).  Our membership is made up of professional scientists (including grad students) or others with professional-level experience in Anolis biology, husbandry, or applied conservation. The key feature of membership, of course, is that members must be willing to make significant contributions to the ALSG. On the ground, this means composing or reviewing IUCN Red List assessments, and helping develop and implement IUCN Species Conservation Strategies for anoles identified as threatened.

If you’re interested in anole conservation issues, drop us a line: we’d love to hear from you regardless of whether or not you fit the description above.

Expect to hear a lot more from us soon.  For now we wanted to debut the group, but we hope to keep the anole community up-to-date on our activities via Anole Annals.  Doubtless, we’ll also spend a lot of time here trawling for facts, favors, and feedback as things really get rolling.

All the best,
Luke Mahler and Rosario Castañeda,
ALSG Co-chairs

*About ¼ of the ~400 species of anoles have received IUCN Red List assessments (you can see which ones by searching for “Anolis” using the Red List search engine). Almost all of these species were assessed during two large-scale assessment projects. About half were assessed as part of the Sampled Red List Index (SRLI) for reptiles, a push to conduct assessments of a random selection representing 16% of the world’s reptiles. A similar number of anoles was assessed during a successful push by NatureServe to conduct IUCN Red List assessments for all North American reptile species (what this means is that all anole species occurring in Mexico have been assessed). Extremely few anoles have received Red List assessments outside of these projects.

**Special thanks to Neil Losin, who gave us permission to base our logo on one of his excellent photographs. The logo was designed to be generic rather than to represent a particular species (hence, the dewlap color and pattern are arbitrary). Nonetheless, we used one of Neil’s A. cristatellus images as our template.

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Anole ID help

Hello anole enthusiasts! A friend of mine was in Las Tablas, Puntarenas, Costa Rica, ~1850m and found these guys. They were sleeping on some overhanging roots where the ground had broken off near a cattle pasture. We were wondering about which species they belong to and thought the brilliant people here could help. Thanks! ImageImage

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Meeting Summary: Anolis Evo-devo and Genomics

The Anolis Gene Nomenclature Committee (AGNC) recently held an open discussion regarding our ongoing efforts to develop Anolis as a model system for integrative biology* and genomics at SICB 2012 in Charlestown, SC. To facilitate further discussion from the community I wanted to post a summary of this meeting here. If anyone would like to add to this discussion or propose additional objectives or concerns please leave your comments below. This is an exciting and fast-paced time for Anolis biologists and discussions such as this are necessary to continue the productive development of this genus for research in a post-genomic era.

Ongoing efforts

The AGNC was formed to efficiently develop resources that will be useful to the Anolis research community. We opened the meeting with short presentations about our ongoing resource development efforts. Carlos Infante (UGA) described work from the Menke Lab to develop cell culture protocols that will be used to test transgenic constructs directly in anole tissues rather than distantly related model systems such as the mouse or chicken. He noted that they recently had promising results testing the piggyBac transposon system in cultured anole fibroblasts. Building on her poster presentation Jeanne Wilson-Rawls (ASU) described her experiences isolating and culturing satellite cells – small stem cells found in mature muscles – and her ongoing collaboration with Kenro Kusumi (ASU) studying the mechanisms of tail regeneration in A. carolinensis. Dr. Kusumi described a relatively new project aimed at obtaining genome and transcriptome sequences for A. apletophallus from Panama as part of a collaboration with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (also see this abstract from E. Hutchins). Dr. Kusumi also reminded the audience of their recent release of additional transcriptome data for mid-stage A. carolinensis embryos (available through NCBI).

One of the AGNC objectives is to aid in the dissemination of laboratory protocols, genomic data, and to create a pipeline for integrating data from multiple populations and species (see below). Several web-based resources are now being created along these lines. Tonia Hsieh and Rob Kulathinal (Temple Univ.) concluded this introduction by describing their efforts to develop Lizardbase, a web portal for geographic and genomic data mining. While still in its development phase the portal promises to become a useful tool for the anole research community and its public outreach efforts as data is added. To build this database Drs. Hsieh and Kulathinal are soliciting geo-tagged data for this portal and are in the process of adding a searchable database of contributors.

Looking forward – Goals for 2012

After some lengthy discussion several new goals for the AGNC were put in place for 2012. It was largely agreed upon that the anole community needed better means of communication regarding available tissues, probes, protocols, and histological data. Two specific objectives were set: First, the creation of an Anolis Evo-devo and Genomics Wiki where technical questions could be asked and protocols shared. Along similar lines we have also set out to create a moderated Listserv similar to the widely used EvolDir.

One of the hallmark features of Anolis compared to many other model systems is the strength of our community that is interested in comparative biology. However, it is impractical for every lab to maintain colonies of numerous species and it is not sustainable over the long term as our community continues to swell. Many agreed that it would be wise to create a streamlined system with the museum community for depositing histological preparations and molecular reagents (cDNA, probes, etc.). It was also agreed that we could increase the usefulness of these materials while protecting their longevity by creating a more fluid system of digital archives. At this time the infrastructure is largely in place for both histological materials and digital files but standards have not been set regarding the information that should accompany each specimen nor the most useful means of searching already established databases.

Finally, additional molecular and sequencing efforts were discussed. Dr. Kusumi introduced the concept of a “molecular holotype” to our community and briefly discussed its potential utility as we look towards the future of comparative genomics. We also touched on how to target additional Anolis species for transcriptome and genome sequencing but it was nearly unanimous that A. sagrei should be the next species targeted by the community.

Meeting Attendees

Thomas Sanger (Harvard), Kenro Kusumi (ASU), Arhat Abzhanov (Harvard), Tonia Hsieh (Temple), Rob Kulathinal (Temple), and Jeanne Wilson-Rawls (ASU), Andre Pires da Silva (UT Arlington), Marc Tollis (CUNY), Bryan Falk (AMNH), Chad Watkins (UT Arlington), Elizabeth Hutchins (ASU), Katie Duryea (Dartmouth), Robert Cox (Univ. Virginia), Carlos Infante, Shane Campbell-Staton (Harvard), Michele Johnson (Trinity), Jerry Husak (Univ. St. Thomas), Alex Gunderson (Duke)

*(I hereby declare anoles the premier model system of eco-evo-physio-behavo-devo. Please use this phase as widely as possible! I am sure that it will catch on.)

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Anole Visual Ecology, Sans Vision

A riddle: What has four legs, eagle eyes, and can change colors?

Anoles are extremely visual animals, with vision being the primary sensory mechanism through which they perceive their surroundings. Accordingly, their vision is excellent, at least during the daytime. (“Eagle eyes” might be a bit misleading. A more accurate phrase might be “bifoveate retinae conferring excellent visual acuity and depth perception”). The amount of daytime light available for vision depends largely on the vegetative structure in the microhabitat. Indeed, many Anolis species occupy a distinct “photic habitat” due to sun/shade preferences. Variation in photic habitat provides a treasure trove of testable hypotheses for the visual ecologist. Is anole vision adapted to particular light environments? Is dewlap color selected for detectability in a given light environment? And so on.

Two different photic habitats, same time of day, same cloud cover.

I totally dig visual ecology, but I’m using it as bait to draw your attention to a closely related (but under-studied) relationship between the light habitat and physiology/behavior. Anoles, like all other animals, use light in ways that do not require visual images at all. These so-called “non-visual” responses to light are used for things like the dilation and constriction of the pupils, the control of circadian rhythms, and seasonal responses to daylength. Non-visual photoreception is processed in the brain through different pathways than those involved in the formation of images, so these responses to light can occur even if the animal is visually blind.

Interesting stuff, but here’s where habitat enters the picture. Non-visual responses to light are irradiance-dependent, meaning that whether or not there is a response, and what the response entails, depends on how much light there is. Bright light, for example, is a wake-up signal to the sleeping lizard, whereas dim light (e.g., moonlight) is less effective in eliciting arousal. However, “bright” and “dim” are relative measures, thus one might expect that the sensitivity of non-visual photoreception would be “tuned” to the overall light levels in the microhabitat. After all, light that seems dim in an open, unshaded habitat might correspond to the brightest midday light available in closed canopy forest. A mismatch between non-visual photosensitivity and habitat irradiance would impair non-visual photoreceptive “performance,” and could even lead to the misinterpretation of photic cues.

In a recent paper published in Journal of Comparative Physiology A, we showed that a non-visual behavioral response to light (the photic induction of locomotor activity) is correlated with habitat irradiance using four species of Puerto Rican anoles (A. cristatellus, A. gundlachi, A. pulchellus, A. krugi). Most diurnal animals respond to light by increasing their activity level. The best way to demonstrate this is to give light when the animal is inactive, i.e., at night. We developed a special device to continuously detect and record anole locomotor activity (walking, running, jumping, etc.) for weeks on end.

Transparent enclosures with a very sensitive movement detector were used to continuously record locomotor behavior

We quantified baseline activity levels during the day and night, then measured the increase in activity in response to light given at night. Species occupying relatively more shaded habitats were more sensitive to the effects of light (light induced more locomotor activity) as compared to closely related, ecomorphologically identical species occupying more brightly illuminated habitats. The differences were most pronounced at irradiance levels similar to natural twilight levels. This jives well with the notion that dawn is nature’s alarm clock, and that photosensitivity should be tuned to take advantage of morning light, whatever irradiance that may be in a given environment.

Still, there are a few gaps that need to be filled in to complete the story. (You’ll have to read the paper to find out what they are). Non-visual photoecology is still in its infancy, and the main challenge is to develop approaches to explore the links between the environment, non-visual photoreception, and fitness. If anyone’s interested in pursuing variations on this theme, I know a good post-doc for hire.

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Actual Anoles at SICB 2012

There’s more than just anole biologists congregating at the SICB 2012 meeting.

To say it’s been cold here in Charleston, SC would be an understatement. Tuesday night, after the conference tipped off, it was 25 degrees Fahrenheit. But today, the temperature picked up a bit and moved into the 50s. Since we know they don’t hibernate in the winter months, I thought it might be possible that the local anoles may take advantage of the sunny afternoon to do a little basking. Just as the poster session was underway at about 3pm, I decided to give it a shot and took a look around what would be prime Anolis carolinensis habitat in the spring and summer: the bushes and a brick wall around the pool. Sure enough, I spotted one male and two females right away! I texted Bryan Falk immediately, and we set to flexing our off-season collecting muscles. Doing a quick tour around the conference center, we managed to observe 6 and catch 3. No anoles were injured during this collection – perhaps only mildly perturbed 🙂

We spotted a female on a sunny black lampost. Nice warm spot on an otherwise cool day.

Here's another sweet lady I snatched from a vine-laden verandah outside the conference center.

Bryan Falk with female green anole. Note the winter plumage on the human.

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Things We’d Like to Learn

How are feet adapted to cling on different surfaces?

Last summer I accompanied Martha Muñoz on her trip to the DR. Earlier this month I came to Harvard to present an overview of her study of thermoregulation in the cybotes clade of anoles at various locations and altitudes, and I got to meet some members of the Losos Lab. The work we did on the trip interested me a lot and since then I’ve decided to pursue a research project of my own. I studied Prof. Losos’ book Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree looking for areas where he suggests opportunities for future work, and compiled a list. Since then, Martha has helped me to zero in on 2 or 3 areas in which I could do some work (these include clinging ability and parasite load). In the meantime, I’d like to share the list of possibilities with everyone. (Click here.)

Happy New Year!

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