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Not-So-Lanky Lizards

Caribbean lizards keep traits from their founders even after years of adaptation to their environment

In 2004, Hurricane Francis wiped out all Caribbean lizards found on the keys near the Bahamas.

Seeing an opportunity to study evolution, Duke biologist Manuel Leal and his colleagues took lizards from a larger, nearby island, paired them up and then put the couples on seven of the small keys.

The scientists came back year after year to check on their experiment.

They observed the lizards' legs getting shorter over time. But, the lizards' legs did not all shorten to the same size, a hint of the founder effect, where traits from a founding species persist after years of adaptation. It is one of the rare times scientists have seen this phenomenon in nature.

The first results of the experiment were published in a Feb. 2 Science Express article.Citation: "Founder Effects Persist Despite Adaptive Differentiation: A Field Experiment with Lizards." J.J. Kolbe, J.B. Losos, M. Leal, T.W. Schoener and D.A. Spiller. Science Express. Feb. 2012. DOI: 10.1126/science.1209566.