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Open Access Research article

Parallel shifts in ecology and natural selection in an island lizard

Ryan Calsbeek1*, Wolfgang Buermann2 and Thomas B Smith23

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover New Hampshire, 03755, USA

2 Center for Tropical Research, Institute of the Environment, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA

3 Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:3  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-3

Published: 6 January 2009



Natural selection is a potent evolutionary force that shapes phenotypic variation to match ecological conditions. However, we know little about the year-to-year consistency of selection, or how inter-annual variation in ecology shapes adaptive landscapes and ultimately adaptive radiations. Here we combine remote sensing data, field experiments, and a four-year study of natural selection to show that changes in vegetation structure associated with a severe drought altered both habitat use and natural selection in the brown anole, Anolis sagrei.


In natural populations, lizards increased their use of vegetation in wet years and this was correlated with selection on limb length but not body size. By contrast, a die-back of vegetation caused by drought was followed by reduced arboreality, selection on body size, and relaxed selection on limb length. With the return of the rains and recovery of vegetation, selection reverted back to pre-drought pattern of selection acting on limb length but not body size. To test for the impact of vegetation loss on natural selection during the drought, we experimentally removed vegetation on a separate study island in a naturally wet year. The experiment revealed similar inter-annual changes in selection on body size but not limb length.


Our results illustrate the dynamic nature of ecology driving natural selection on Anolis morphology and emphasize the importance of inter-annual environmental variation in shaping adaptive variation. In addition, results illustrate the utility of using remote sensing data to examine ecology's role in driving natural selection.