Have you ever caught a lizard with your bare hands? To be completely honest, I’ve spent a lot of time outside but I can’t remember ever actually hand catching a lizard until coming to Panama. Luckily, it’s not as tough as I expected once you get the hang of it. Here’s a photo of the first lizard I caught:
After being snatched off their perch, the lizard is deposited into a cloth bag and placed into a cooler.
Just a cooler full of lizards!
So what is the point of catching these little lizards? This project uses anoles as the study system to better understand how tropical animals will adapt to increasing temperatures resulting from climate change. To do so, we are capturing lizards from the mainland forest and transplanting them to small islands in the Panama Canal. The islands have less canopy cover than the mainland, and therefore experience slightly warmer temperatures during the day. By taking baseline data from the lizards and then returning to the islands in the future to see which individuals survive and reproduce, it will be possible to determine how the lizards adapt to increased temperatures and which traits are being selected for.
Last summer, lizards were introduced to five islands. For the first month and a half of my co-op, we were working everyday to capture enough lizards to populate four more islands. One day of catching 80-90 lizards would be followed by two days in the lab (a beautiful new building with lots of windows, see below!) taking all kinds of measurements, including the highest and lowest temperatures each lizard can withstand.
We also took small tissue samples from each lizard’s tail for the genomics work, and gave each lizard a unique tag by injecting a very small amount of a colored plastic under the skin so it can be identified during recaptures.
Here you can see the unique tag, as well as a parasite in the lizard’s stomach
Then the lizards were ready to be brought to their new island homes! These islands, which were formed during the construction of the canal, didn’t previously have any members of this species living on them… so untying the little bag and letting a lizard free to start a brand new population that could now be on the island indefinitely was a crazy feeling!?!?!
Dan, a PhD student from London who’s also working on the project, releasing a lizard
Someone’s excited about their new home!
We recently completed this transplant portion of the project. Next, we’re going to be returning to the islands and recapturing the lizards to see which individuals survive, which will indicate which traits are being selected for. We’ll also return to the islands that were populated last summer to see which lizards survived and reproduced. Assessing which traits helped these individuals survive will make it possible to model future evolution. Science is so cool!