Phenotypic shifts in urban areas in the tropical lizard Anolis cristatellus

Kristin M. Winchell, R. Graham Reynolds, Sofia R. Prado-Irwin, Alberto R. Puente-Rolón, Liam J. Revell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Urbanization is an increasingly important dimension of global change, and urban areas likely impose significant natural selection on the species that reside within them. Although many species of plants and animals can survive in urban areas, so far relatively little research has investigated whether such populations have adapted (in an evolutionary sense) to their newfound milieu. Even less of this work has taken place in tropical regions, many of which have experienced dramatic growth and intensification of urbanization in recent decades. In the present study, we focus on the neotropical lizard, Anolis cristatellus. We tested whether lizard ecology and morphology differ between urban and natural areas in three of the most populous municipalities on the island of Puerto Rico. We found that environmental conditions including temperature, humidity, and substrate availability differ dramatically between neighboring urban and natural areas. We also found that lizards in urban areas use artificial substrates a large proportion of the time, and that these substrates tend to be broader than substrates in natural forest. Finally, our morphological data showed that lizards in urban areas have longer limbs relative to their body size, as well as more subdigital scales called lamellae, when compared to lizards from nearby forested habitats. This shift in phenotype is exactly in the direction predicted based on habitat differences between our urban and natural study sites, combined with our results on how substrates are being used by lizards in these areas. Findings from a common-garden rearing experiment using individuals from one of our three pairs of populations provide evidence that trait differences between urban and natural sites may be genetically based. Taken together, our data suggest that anoles in urban areas are under significant differential natural selection and may be evolutionarily adapting to their human-modified environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1009-1022
Number of pages14
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2016


  • Adaptation
  • Anole
  • Puerto Rico
  • Rapid evolution
  • Urbanization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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