Anolis lizards

 

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Anolis lizards

 

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Until recently, one piece of the puzzle was missing: despite all the research that has been done on Anolis lizards, their developmental biology did not received much attention. Our research on the developmental genetic basis of limb length differences, one of the key trait of ecological adaptation, and mobile genetic elements is aiming to bridge these gaps. By using a comparative approach, we aim to investigate how developmental processes are tweaked by evolutionary processes to produce adapted morphologies. We are also interested in understanding the reverse causation, i.e., how developmental mechanisms might guide evolutionary diversification.

Anolis lizards are arguably one of the most iconic lizard groups, at least to evolutionary biologists. Upon colonization of the Caribbean Islands roughly 50 mya, they underwent adaptive radiation, meaning that they repeatedly split up into microhabitat specialists resulting in almost 400 extant Anolis species. The fact that a very similar set of ‘ecomorphs’ can be found on different Caribbean Islands fuelled an immensely prolific research programme and evolutionary biologists have used Anolis lizards to learn about processes like speciation, community assemblies and behavioural ecology.