Character displacement and community assembly in Anolis lizards

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Character displacement and community assembly in Anolis lizards

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Title: Character displacement and community assembly in Anolis lizards
Author: Stuart, Yoel Eli
Citation: Stuart, Yoel Eli. 2013. Character displacement and community assembly in Anolis lizards. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: At broad scales, community ecologists study how biogeographic factors like environmental dissimilarity and geographic distance influence community assembly and composition. At small scales, community ecologists study how one or several species interact to determine habitat partitioning and coexistence. In this dissertation, I present studies at both scales. Chapter One investigates community assembly across the Caribbean, Central, and South American radiations of Anolis lizards and Eleutherodactylid frogs to test whether oceanic islands are unique in their assembly processes. Such uniqueness is suggested by high levels of endemism on islands; however, comparable levels of endemism can be found in mainland communities. I modeled the rate of species turnover between mainland communities, with respect to geographic distance and environmental dissimilarity, and then used the mainland model to predict turnover among islands. Turnover among island communities was significantly higher than predicted from the mainland model, confirming the long-held but untested assumption that island assemblages accumulate biodiversity differently than their mainland counterparts. Chapter Two reviews the evidence for ecological character displacement (ECD), an evolutionary process whereby two resource competitors diverge from one another in phenotype and resource use, facilitating coexistence in a community. I find that, despite current scientific opinion, the evidence for ECD is equivocal; most cases of ECD pattern fail to rule out processes alternative to resource competition that could create the same pattern. I conclude that better evidence may come from real time tests of ECD. Chapters Three and Four describe just such a test in small island populations of Anolis carolinensis. In Chapter Three, I find that small island populations of A. carolinensis that have come into sympatry with a novel competitor, the invasive A. sagrei, shift their habitat use to become more arboreal, compared to allopatric populations. Consistent with prediction, individuals from sympatric populations have larger toepads with additional adhesive scales - a common adaptation to arboreality in Anolis. In Chapter Four, I describe a common garden experiment that finds that the observed toepad divergence is an evolved response, suggesting rates of divergence for toepad area and scale number on par with well known examples of contemporary evolution.
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