Over 80% of people in North America live in cities, and by 2050, almost 7,000,000,000 people worldwide (about the current population of the planet!) will live in urbanized areas. As cities grow to handle this influx of people, other species also occupy urban areas. Understanding how living in urban habitats impacts species and how they adapt to living under these conditions are important questions for urban ecologists.
I use Anolis lizards to answer questions about how urban environments impact the organisms that make their homes in cities. Anoles are wonderful organisms to study as many species exploit urban habitats as well as more natural ones. We also have a great understanding of many key ecological aspects of anole life in natural areas from previous research, and anoles are so numerous!
My current work with anoles and urbanization examines two specific questions: how do anole phenotypes vary with urbanization and how does urbanization affect the spread of a specific species, the crested anole (Anolis cristatellus), in Miami. Working with members of the Kolbe lab, including undergraduates Amanda Merritt and Haley Moniz, we have found that brown and crested anoles in the Miami area have larger body sizes and that brown anoles have higher parasite loads in urban habitats. These findings are intriguing and suggest that anoles can grow and thrive in urban areas in spite of costs, such as increased parasites, that go along with living there.
Previous work in invasive crested anoles in Miami shows that they exploit shadier, cooler parts of the city that may have reduced impacts from the urban heat island. This research created a detailed baseline of spatial data on the crested anole invasion and strong hypotheses to test about how this anole uses urban habitats. This past year Marcos Vargas-Rodriguez and Noah Gilbert, two undergraduates in the Kolbe Lab, and I set out to gather data to test whether we can use our knowledge of this species’ physiology and habitat requirements to predict its spatial spread in an urban habitat. We worked as a team to gather block level information on the spread of crested anoles in Miami (and saw a lot of other awesome urban wildlife in the process). Analysis of this data is ongoing, so check back for updates!
Featured image credit: Google Earth