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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