Perch Compliance and Dumb Luck

Thanks to Duncan Irschick’s insistence that I start a project immediately upon my arrival in the PhD program at UMass, Amherst (and inspiration from a passage in Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree stating that the effects of perch instability on anole locomotion had not yet been examined – thanks, Jonathan!), I spent part of the summer of 2011 studying the effects of perch compliance (flexibility) on green anole ecology and jumping performance in the wild. This followed my examination of the effects of this perch characteristic in the lab over the last two semesters (manuscript under review).

However, finding an ideal field site for this study proved a bit more challenging than I had anticipated. Yoel Stuart invited me to work with him on a project examining the effects of interspecific competition on diet in Anolis carolinensis and A. sagrei using stable isotope analysis last summer (we continued this project through 2011), and I based my vision of an ideal field site on my experiences watching green anoles hop and run around on slender (and quite flexible) mangrove branches. I envisioned a site with plenty of small to medium diameter branches and larger trunks for the anoles to frolic on, which would provide me with plenty of data on how these lizards use compliant perches in the wild.

After a FULL week of searching (with plenty of field site advice from Yoel), I settled on a site with the type of habitat structure I had originally been seeking, as well as many small cabbage palms (< 3m) along the forest edges.

Although I originally focused on the branches (to the point of blinding frustration, as the anoles frequently and quickly climbed well above my view), I was only able to observe lizards for any length of time on the palms. I tried to ignore the palms (sheer stubbornness on my part) but this was the only type of habitat on which I could reliably find the anoles. Luckily, finally shifting my focus to these small palms proved beneficial for two reasons: 1) the small size of the palms made it (relatively) easy to find lizards that were at good heights for filming and catching, and 2) the palms provided a very wide range of perch compliances (from very slender leaflets to thick petioles), with which to test my hypotheses.

A. carolinensis female preparing to poop off leaflet

I have some exciting results from this project, which I am eager to share (manuscript in prep.), and I am also feeling quite lucky about my choice of field sites. I had my mind set on the type of habitat I thought I required to answer my questions, but the anoles themselves led me to what I believe was an even better type of habitat. It appears as though the anoles know best.

Male A. carolinensis on petiole

About cgilman

I'm a a science writer and freelance journalist living in Philadelphia (and I freakin' love it!). I geek out about science, social health, food (food is life), and random weird and cute stuff.
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