Developing research and higher education on animal biodiversity and wildlife conservation in the Caribbean

Cuban lizard under surveillance

Thu 21 Dec, 2017

As a result of the modification of natural habitats by human action, native species accustomed to the great outdoors are found in cities. How do these species manage to survive in the city, in conditions so radically different from their natural habitat? In order to provide evidence that could help answer this question, we chose to work on a small endemic Cuban lizard that is easily found in the city, Anolis homolechis. The study project is entitled “Urban Populations of an endemic Cuban lizard, Anolis homolechis: How do they maintain themselves? ».

We are considering three alternative hypotheses that could explain the maintenance of urban populations:

1) The species has always been present in the nowadays urbanized areas but has adapted to its present urban life,

2) The species has not adapted to the city. The urban population is maintained by the flow of migrants from adjacent rural areas,

3) The species was pre-adapted to city life before urbanization.

N2 Nov2017_Article Annabelle Vidal_P3In order to find out which of these hypotheses is the right one, we will mark and track individuals in the city and individuals in the forest, throughout their lives. Thus, we will collect information on their size, weight, sex, age class and estimate demographic parameters that could differ according to the type of habitat. We will also check whether individuals in cities behave differently from those in the forest that would allow them to adapt to city conditions. And DNA analysis will tell us if, and where, lizards are migrating.

After prospecting several sites, we chose two cities and two nature reserves in the west of Cuba. We formed a work team including colleagues from the Institute of Ecology and Systematics in Havana, and started the first two field protocol trials. These trials allowed us to test the protocol and make any necessary improvements. Samples were collected from the tail of captured individuals, allowing the DNA analysis to be carried out.

N2 Nov2017_Article Annabelle Vidal_Lezard P4We started in October the follow-ups on both types of habitat, with the recently received tagging material. The collection of DNA samples will soon be completed. Finally, two master’s students will begin an internship respectively on the variations in predator behavior and on the diet of the species, in the city sites and in the forest, as part of this project. In the coming months, field work will be well advanced and we should be able to report on the first results!

Annabelle Vidal

Doctoral student

Instituto de Ecología y Sistemática, CUBA

Centre d’Écologie Fonctionnelle et Évolutive, FRANCE

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