Lizards adapt to invasive fire ants, reversing geographical patterns of lizard traits

ScienceDaily | 11/29/2018 | Staff
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"Rapid environmental change, be it from changing climate or the introduction of invasive species, is putting a lot of pressure on native species," said Christopher Thawley, graduate student at Penn State at the time of the study and first author of the paper. "Usually when researchers look at how native species might respond to these kinds of threats, they might measure one characteristic of the animal and at one or a few sites. In this study, we looked at three separate characteristics of eastern fence lizards from thirteen sites spanning a thousand miles and found that these lizards are capable of adapting in a concerted way to meet the threat of invasive fire ants, and in a relatively short time frame."

Some behavioral and physical characteristics within a species change gradually across geographical space, for example animals at one end of the range may have relatively short limbs that, as you move across the range, are longer. These geographical "clines" may be related to changes in temperature, precipitation, or other environmental factors that also change across the geographical range, often with latitude.

Fence - Lizards - Clines - Anti-predator - Behavior

"We found that fence lizards follow predicted latitudinal clines in anti-predator behavior where fire ants have not yet invaded -- from about New Jersey to northern Tennessee," said Tracy Langkilde, professor and head of biology at Penn State and senior author of the paper. "They rely on camouflage more often at lower latitudes in the absence of fire ants."

To avoid detection by predators, lizards at lower latitudes typically sit still and use their mottled coloring to blend in with their surroundings. This is an effective strategy against most of their natural predators, like birds, which hunt visually.

Fire - Ants - Tennessee - South - Alabama

"But where fire ants are present, from central Tennessee south to coastal Alabama, that pattern reverses," said Langkilde. "Sitting still and blending into the...
(Excerpt) Read more at: ScienceDaily
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