Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Island colonisation leads to rapid behavioural and morphological divergence in Anolis lizards

Nicholson, Daniel J.; Knell, Robert J.; Folfas, Edita; Neel, Lauren K.; Degon, Zachariah; DuBois, Madeline; Ortiz-Ross, Xochitl; Chung, Albert K.; Curlis, John David; Thurman, Timothy J.; McMillan, W. Owen; Garner, Trenton W.J.; Cox, Christian L.; Logan, Michael L.


Daniel J. Nicholson

Edita Folfas

Lauren K. Neel

Zachariah Degon

Madeline DuBois

Xochitl Ortiz-Ross

Albert K. Chung

John David Curlis

Timothy J. Thurman

W. Owen McMillan

Trenton W.J. Garner

Christian L. Cox

Michael L. Logan


Islands are hotspots of endemism and often function as engines of adaptive radiation. Nevertheless, we lack a deep understanding of the processes that generate phenotypic divergence when populations first colonise islands. Important questions include: (1) Do populations experience shifts in habitat use and behaviour with reduced competition and predation, and how fast do these changes occur? (2) Do shifts in niche occupancy result in morphological divergence from mainland populations? To investigate these questions, we transplanted 210 slender anole lizards (Anolis apletophallus) from mainland Panama to three islands in the Panama Canal that are likely species-poor compared to the mainland. We compared habitat use, flight initiation distance, and morphology among populations across two generations of divergence. We found that island lizards changed their behaviour immediately after colonisation, perching on lower and broader surfaces and allowing observers to approach more closely before fleeing. Although we found only weak evidence for an association between survival and morphological trait variation, trait means in the second generation often shifted in the direction expected if selection had acted on the founders. Our results indicate that colonising individuals can change their behaviour rapidly to exploit new structural niches, and that substantial shifts in morphology can occur after only a single generation. These changes, which are probably facilitated by ecological release, may represent the first steps in adaptive radiation of island lineages.


Nicholson, D. J., Knell, R. J., Folfas, E., Neel, L. K., Degon, Z., DuBois, M., …Logan, M. L. (2023). Island colonisation leads to rapid behavioural and morphological divergence in Anolis lizards. Evolutionary Ecology, 37, 779-795.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 8, 2023
Online Publication Date Jun 26, 2023
Publication Date Oct 1, 2023
Deposit Date Mar 18, 2024
Publicly Available Date Jun 27, 2024
Journal Evolutionary Ecology
Print ISSN 0269-7653
Electronic ISSN 1573-8477
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 37
Pages 779-795
Keywords Anolis; Behavioural drive; Bogert effect; Ecological release; Experimental evolution; Island biogeography
Public URL


Accepted manuscript (1.5 Mb)

Copyright Statement
This version of the article has been accepted for publication, after peer review (when applicable) and is subject to Springer Nature’s AM terms of use, but is not the Version of Record and does not reflect post-acceptance improvements, or any corrections. The Version of Record is available online at:

You might also like

Downloadable Citations