The Anoles of Soroa, and the Lost Manuscript of Williams and Rand

With several colleagues, Cuba’s foremost authority on Anolis lizards – Lourdes Rodríguez Schettino – has recently published a paper on the anoles of Soroa that’s well worth checking out.

Soroa, in Pinar del Río, Cuba

Soroa is an unbelievable place.  Although you wouldn’t guess it to be special for any particular reason – it’s a lower mid-elevation inland site in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province – the place is lousy with anoles.  There are a whopping 11 species there – on a visit you can see representatives of all six Greater Antillean ecomorphs in action, as well as several ‘boutique anoles’ – weirdos like the aquatic Anolis vermiculatus, or the ‘chipojo bobo’ Anolis (Chamaeleolis) barbatus that have no counterparts on other islands.

Soroa is a legendary site among anolefolk, and has been host to seemingly countless studies of anole ecology, doubtless due to the presence of a moderately comfortable resort on the premises. Lourdes Rodríguez Schettino and her students and colleagues regularly studied the natural history of Soroa’s anoles in the 80s and 90s (much of this work is summarized in an excellent 1999 book), and in the mid-90s, she hosted two joint Cuba-United States research expeditions to study anole community ecology there (Losos et al. 2003).

The famous Soroa waterfall (pretty tame in the middle of a 2008 drought)

Given its diversity and history, it may come as a surprise that Soroa, and indeed Cuba in general, played very little role in Ernest Williams’ original formulation of the ecomorph concept.  Williams had been to Cuba a few times in the late 50s and early 60s (with Ruibal in ‘57, ‘59, and ‘62, according to collecting records), but hadn’t seen the living Cuban anole fauna in years by the time he and Rand began thinking about ecomorphs.  Cuba figured into Williams’ seminal 1972 and 1983 papers, but only in a minor way – those papers were mainly derived from observations on Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Hispaniola (see Rand 1964, 1967, Rand and Williams 1969;  also check out Yoel Stuart’s great post on that first paper here).  It’s therefore somewhat ironic that Soroa is such a classic site for anole ecomorphology (much credit for this certainly belongs to Lourdes).

Although Williams’ famous ecomorph chapter came out in 1983 (in Huey et al.; Lizard Ecology; Harvard Univ. Press), it was that very year he and Stan Rand finally paid a visit to Soroa to study anoles (Rand had briefly passed through in 1981).  Although others were along, a young Lourdes Rodríguez Schettino was the primary organizer of this trip.  This trip was brief, but Williams and Rand felt they had enough observations to use Soroa as a “test case” of the ecomorph concept: since Cuba wasn’t really used to formulate the ecomorph concept, it could be used to test its generality. Although the men drafted a manuscript, it fell by the wayside at some point, and both of them later passed away.

Rand (left) and Williams, at Soroa in 1983. Photo courtesy of Lourdes Rodríguez Schettino

In many ways, this recent paper on Soroa carries out the test Williams and Rand had intended – a broad, detailed ecological study of a diverse Cuban anole community. Although the authors find a strong match between Soroa and communities on other islands, there are interesting differences too – most noteworthy are the occurrence of unique ecological specialists (like the aquatic A. vermiculatus) and the presence of four members of a single ecomorph (trunk-ground), which appear to exhibit different thermal specializations despite their similar use of microhabitats.

Take a look at the paper, but also be sure to check out the supplementary material, which consists of Williams and Rand’s working draft of their never-published Soroa manuscript.  Although it’s certainly a work-in-progress, it’s a very interesting and sometimes surprising retrospective on the ecomorph concept by the authors of the idea themselves.

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2 Responses to The Anoles of Soroa, and the Lost Manuscript of Williams and Rand

  1. Jonathan Losos says:

    Good news for herpetologists interested in seeing Soroa themselves. The Obama administration has just announced plans to loosen restrictions on travel to Cuba:

  2. lukemahler says:

    I figured I’d post links to a couple of pictures of Lourdes for those interested. The first is a picture of her from a few days ago, when she received a national award in Havana for her lifetime contribution to Cuban science.

    The second is a picture Jim Parham just sent me from a trip we did with Lourdes, Jason Kolbe, Ted Papenfuss, and others in late 2008. Lourdes is on the left and I’m on the right, holding a large Anolis equestris.

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