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Pressured by predators, lizards see rapid shift in natural selection

sized that immediately following a predator's arrival, longer-legged -- and hence faster-running -- Anolis lizards would be favored to elude capture. However, as the lizards grew ever more arboreal in habitat, the scientists projected that natural selection would begin to favor shorter limbs, which are better suited to navigating narrow branches and twigs.

Their hypothesis was borne out. Six months after the introduction of the predator, Losos found that the Anolis population had dropped by half or more on the islands with the predators, and in comparison to the lizards on the predator-free islands, long legs were more strongly favored: Survivors had longer legs relative to non-survivors. After another six months, during which time the Anolis lizards grew increasingly arboreal, selective pressures were exactly the opposite: Survivors were now characterized by having shorter legs on the experimental islands as compared to the control islands.

The behavioral shift from the ground to higher perches apparently caused this remarkable reversal, Losos says, adding that behavioral flexibility may often drive extremely rapid shifts in evolution.

"Evolutionary biology is by its nature an historical science, but the combination of microevolutionary experimentation and macroevolutionary historical analysis can provide a rich understanding about the genesis of biological diversity," the researchers write.


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Contact: Steve Bradt
steve_bradt@harvard.edu
617-496-8070
Harvard University
16-Nov-2006


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