The finer points of urban adaptation: Intraspecific variation in lizard claw morphology

Cleo H. Falvey, Kevin J. Aviles-Rodriguez, Travis J. Hagey, Kristin M. Winchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Human activity drastically transforms landscapes, generating novel habitats to which species must adaptively respond. Consequently, urbanization is increasingly recognized as a driver of phenotypic change. The structural environment of urban habitats presents a replicated natural experiment to examine trait-environment relationships and phenotypic variation related to locomotion. We use geometric morphometrics to examine claw morphology of five species of Anolis lizards in urban and forest habitats. We find that urban lizards undergo a shift in claw shape in the same direction but varying magnitude across species. Urban claws are overall taller, less curved, less pointed and shorter in length than those of forest lizards. These differences may enable more effective attachment or reduce interference with toepad function on smooth anthropogenic substrates. We also find an increase in shape disparity, a measurement of variation, in urban populations, suggesting relaxed selection or niche expansion rather than directional selection. This study expands our understanding of the relatively understudied trait of claw morphology and adds to a growing number of studies demonstrating phenotypic changes in urban lizards. The consistency in the direction of the shape changes we observed supports the intriguing possibility that urban environments may lead to predictable convergent adaptive change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)304-318
Number of pages15
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 28 2020


  • Caribbean
  • adaptation
  • anole
  • claw
  • climbing
  • convergence
  • geometric morphometrics
  • urbanization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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