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Island Selection and Lizard Ecology

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Life and death questions in evolution

Death is an important mechanism in natural selection, and one major cause of it is predatory activity. Studying predation can illuminate our understanding of how animals evolve.

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'Natural selection' is a key mechanism of evolution and determines how common certain biological traits become established in a population. Death is one of the most important processes through which natural selection occurs as organisms which are less adapted to their environment are more likely to die before producing offspring or having produced fewer of them. An important cause of death is predatory activity. the EU-funded project 'Island selection and lizard ecology' (ISLE) studied the ecological processes of natural selection caused by predation. Researchers used island systems, which tend to be relatively isolated as models. the project also focused on building our understanding of the ecology of invasive species, which pose a threat to indigenous wild life and are, hence, an important line of research for conservationists and ecologists alike. ISLE sought to focus on three different environments: Great Abaco Island (Bahamas) and Florida, during the outgoing phase, and the Canary Islands of Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria and Tenerife during the return phase. during the outgoing phase, ISLE explored the effects of the larger predator Leiocephalus carinatus (the northern curly tailed lizard) on Anolis sagrei (the brown anole) on Great Abaco and on mainland Florida. More specifically, the project investigated how a larger predator affects the traits and densities of a smaller predator, quantified natural selection, interpreted and compared survival rates, measured changes in population traits, as well as quantified the effects of habitat on other aspects of the behaviour of small lizards. ISLE's main results suggest that weather conditions affect the impact of the large predator on the small predator's habitat use. Bad weather excludes the larger animal and thus the smaller one moves its habitat from the trees to the ground. project findings pave the way for further investigation that can test existing hypotheses on the role of predation as core forces promoting the evolution of the brown anole.

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