Forest lizards genetically morph to survive life in the city
Lizards that once dwelled in forests but now slink around urban areas have genetically morphed
Lizards that once dwelled in forests but now slink around urban areas have genetically morphed to survive life in the city, researchers have found.
The Puerto Rican crested anole, a brown lizard with a bright orange throat fan, has sprouted special scales to better cling to smooth surfaces like walls and windows and grown larger limbs to sprint across open areas, scientists say.
“We are watching evolution as it’s unfolding,” said Kristin Winchell, a biology professor at NYU and main author of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
As urbanization intensifies around the world, it's important to understand how organisms adapt and humans can design cities in ways that support all species, Winchell said.
The study analyzed 96 Anolis cristatellus lizards, comparing the genetic makeup of forest-dwellers to those living in Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan, as well as the northern city of Arecibo and western city of Mayaguez.
Scientists found that 33 genes within the lizard genome were repeatedly associated with urbanization.
The changes in these lizards, whose lifespans are roughly 7 years, can occur very quickly, within 30 to 80 generations, enabling them to escape from predators and survive in urban areas, Winchell added. The larger limbs, for example, enable them to run more quickly across a hot parking lot, and the special scales to hold onto surfaces far more smooth than trees.
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