Home / Lifestyles / Scientists continue 30 year lizard study on Abaco
Each year a research group spends between two and four weeks on Abaco to continue their research on the brown anole lizard, which is very abundant here. They are studying “how the curly tail lizard affects the brown anole, and how the presence of the brown anole affects the rest of the ecosystem on the islands." This project commenced over 30 years ago and two members of the present group have been coming since its inception.

Scientists continue 30 year lizard study on Abaco

 

 Above: Dr. Jonathan Losos hikes through the shallows in search of the Brown Anole Lizard. Scientists have been studying the lizard here on Abaco for 30 years, resulting in interesting discoveries relating to ecology and evolution. Photo by Manuel Leal.
Above: Dr. Jonathan Losos hikes through the shallows in search of the Brown Anole Lizard. Scientists have been studying the lizard here on Abaco for 30 years, resulting in interesting discoveries relating to ecology and evolution. Photo by Manuel Leal.

Each year a research group spends between two and four weeks on Abaco to continue their research on the brown anole lizard, which is very abundant here. They are studying “how the curly tail lizard affects the brown anole, and how the presence of the brown anole affects the rest of the ecosystem on the islands.” This project commenced over 30 years ago and two members of the present group have been coming since its inception.

Jonathan Losos, who spoke about this research project, has been a member of the team since 1998. He earned his degree in Biology and Ph.D. in Zoology and is now Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. Dr. Losos’s research concerns the origin and maintenance of biological diversity, his primary focus being the behavioral and evolutionary ecology of lizards. He says that his research here has produced many interesting discoveries about anoles, ecology and evolution.

Other members of the team are staff faculty members of the University of California, Davis, Duke University and the University of Rhode Island.

Dr. Losos has also been studying lizards on two other Bahamian islands and throughout the Caribbean but particularly likes Abaco and the area of Snake Cay and Buckaroon Bay. He says that these areas are particularly good for studying the brown anole because there are many tiny rocks which act as the equivalent of test tubes in a lab. Research on these lizards enables the biologists to study food webs, how the ecosystems function, how species interact and how species adapt to their environment.

The scientists are documenting the changes they see from one year to the next. “These lizards evolve very quickly and are very adaptable. There are 400 species of the brown anole lizard and we are studying how they are so diverse and adapted to their environment. Understanding biodiversity is good for people. The world is changing due to global warming and we are looking at the question of whether the species can change quickly enough to adapt,” he stated.

The original research projects involved a) how various effects move down the food web and b) looking at the food web from the bottom up. However, the advent of so many strong hurricanes in recent years has caused the research to go in yet another direction, one which the scientists had never intended to study originally. “It has enabled us to learn a lot about how hurricanes affect ecosystems including the lizards. We have had to wait several years for lizard populations to recover and we are hoping that there will be no more hurricanes for a long time,” says Dr. Losos.

“This is a great place for research and our work done here has been very influential in developing ideas about food web origins, species adaptation and hurricane effects and recovery,” stated Dr. Losos. This scientific research project is well known in scientific circles and many papers which have been written by these scientists on their work in Abaco have been published in prestigious scientific journals.

Dr. Losos wishes to express gratitude to the Bahamian Government for its support of this project and also to the many others who have also given assistance.

Bonefish guide, Buddy Pinder, of Casuarina Point, has assisted these scientists with boat transportation for over thirty years, almost since the inception of the project and, according to Dr. Losos, is a great help in spotting and catching the brown anoles.

It is interesting to note how this Harvard professor became involved in such detailed biological research.

“As a child I went through the normal boyhood phase of being fascinated by dinosaurs. Then at the age of about 10 years I saw the television show ‘Leave it to Beaver’ in which Beaver gets a baby alligator as a pet. This was the closest I could get to having a dinosaur, but since I would not be able to keep an alligator I asked my parents for a caiman as a pet. After much persuasion my parents got me some caimans which are a close relative of the alligator family from South America, and my interest in biology and zoology spawned from there,” he reminisces.

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