Lizards on newly created islands independently and rapidly adapt in morphology and diet [Ecology]
Rapid adaptive changes can result from the drastic alterations humans impose on ecosystems. For example, flooding large areas for hydroelectric dams converts mountaintops into islands and leaves surviving populations in a new environment. We report differences in morphology and diet of the termite-eating gecko Gymnodactylus amarali between five such newly created islands and five nearby mainland sites located in the Brazilian Cerrado, a biodiversity hotspot. Mean prey size and dietary prey-size breadth were larger on islands than mainlands, expected because four larger lizard species that also consume termites, but presumably prefer larger prey, went extinct on the islands. In addition, island populations had larger heads relative to their body length than mainland populations; larger heads are more suited to the larger prey taken, and disproportionately larger heads allow that functional advantage without an increase in energetic requirements resulting from larger body size. Parallel morphological evolution is strongly suggested, because there are indications that, before flooding, relative head size did not differ between future island and future mainland sites. Females and males showed the same trend of relatively larger heads on islands, so the difference between island and mainland sites is unlikely to be due to greater male–male competition for mates on islands. We thus discovered a very fast (at most 15 y) case of independent parallel adaptive change in response to catastrophic human disturbance.
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