Species Profile by Katherine Krynak, excerpted from The Hum, February 2011
Reserva Las Gralarias is home to an amazingly diverse assemblage of reptiles including one family of lizards which is likely to be more diverse than scientists currently recognize. Anoles are of the Family Polychrotidae and the described 372 species are further categorized into 4 genera native to the New World. Anoles are distinguished by their often colorful dewlap (used in territory and courtship displays) and their expandable toe pads.
Anoles have been a focal taxa in studies of evolution and adaptive radiation. The highly divergent morphology of these species within relatively small geographic ranges has lead researchers to hypothesize about the evolution of these differing traits. The term “ecomorph” has been given to species whose morphology (appearance) is correlated with the environment. For example, Anoles inhabiting the Caribbean islands who live on tree trunks have long hind limbs used for making large leaps for prey capture (Anoles are insectivorous), while species which inhabit the canopy have short limbs used for crawling and slowly sneaking up on prey along the smaller branches. It has been found that on these small Caribbean islands such adaptive traits have evolved independently multiple times allowing niche expansion and speciation.
The ecomorphs found at RLG differ from these island Anoles; however, like their Caribbean cousins, the environment may be playing a role in their evolution. Based on the observed morphologies of the RLG anoles, it appears that humans may have opened a new ecological niche allowing for divergence: pasture land. Anoles of the forest such as Anolis aequatorialis, are larger, heavy bodied animals with large jumping hind limbs while those found in the pasture are much smaller in overall size, with short limbs and wide toe pads which possibly aid the animal’s maneuvers through the grasses.
Though alternative hypotheses may explain the morphological differences between the anole species of RLG, the RLG Field station will be a prime location for researchers who may have interest in examining this phenomenon within the Anoles of the Andes Western Slope.
So many questions to ask! So many new species to discover!