Urban lizards share genome markers not found in forest dwellers

Urban lizards share genome markers not found in forest dwellers

Anolis cristatellus lizards—a small-bodied species also known as the Puerto Rican crested anole—are commonly found in both urban and forest areas of Puerto Rico. Credit: Kristen Winchell

Lizards that live in different cities have parallel genetic markers when compared to neighboring forest lizards, according to a new study published in the journal Nature. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Genetic differences associated with urbanization underlie physical differences in urban areas lizardsincluding longer limbs and larger toe pads that show how these lizards evolved to adapt to them city environments.

Urbanization has dramatically altered landscapes around the world — changing how animals interact with nature, creating “heat islands” as temperatures rise, and damaging local biodiversity. However, many organisms survive and even thrive in these urban environments, taking advantage of the new types of habitats created by humans. The researchers are studying evolutionary changes In urban species that some populations, for example, are subject to metabolic changes From new diets or developing an increased tolerance to heat.

“Urbanization affects nearly two-thirds of the Earth and is expected to continue to increase, so it is important to understand how organisms can adapt to changing environments,” said Kristin Winchell, assistant professor of biology at New York University and first author of the study. “In many ways, cities provide us with natural laboratories for studying adaptive change, as we can compare urban residents with their non-urban counterparts to see how they respond to stressors and similar pressures over short periods of time.”

Anolis cristatellus The lizards – a small-bodied species also known as Puerto Rican Crested Anoles – are commonly found in both urban and forest areas of Puerto Rico. Previous studies by Winchell and her colleagues found that urban Anolis cristatellus They have evolved certain traits for living in cities: they have larger toe pads with more specialized scales that allow them to grip smooth surfaces such as walls and glass, and they have longer limbs that help them run across open areas.

In the PNAS Study, researchers looked at 96 Anolis cristatellus The lizards from three regions of Puerto Rico—San Juan, Arecibo, and Mayagüez—compared the lizards that live in urban centers to those that live in the forests surrounding each city.

They initially asserted that the lizard populations in the three regions were genetically distinct from each other, so any similarities they found between the lizards across the three cities could be attributed to urbanization. They then measured the pads of their fingers and legs and found that urban lizards had significantly longer limbs and larger toes with more specialized scales on their toes, supporting their previous research that these traits evolved to enable urban lizards to thrive in cities.

To understand the genetic basis for these trait differences, the researchers conducted several genetic analyzes on exogenous DNA, which are regions of the genome that code for proteins. They identified a set of 33 genes located in three regions of the lizard genome that have been repeatedly associated with urbanization across populations, including genes related to immune function and metabolism.

“While we need more analysis of these genes to really know what this finding means, we do have evidence that lizards in urban areas get more infected and have more parasites, so changes in immune function and wound healing would make sense. Likewise, urban anoles eat humans.” food, so it’s possible they may be experiencing changes in metabolism,” Winchell said.

In a further analysis, they found 93 genes in the urban lizards important for limb and skin development, offering a genomic explanation for the growths in their legs and the pads of their toes.

“It appears that the physical differences that we see in urban lizards are reflected at the genetic level,” Winchell said. “if urban population They evolve with parallel physical and genomic changes, and we may even be able to predict how populations will respond to urbanization just by looking at genetic markers.”

“Understanding how animals adapt to urban environments can help us focus our efforts on conserving species that need them most, and even build urban environments In ways that preserve all species.”

Do the differences in urban lizards apply to people who live in cities? Not necessarily, according to Winchell, because humans aren’t as captivated by predators as lizards. But humans are subject to some of the same urban factors, including pollution and warming, that seem to contribute to adaptation in other species.

Additional study authors include Shane Campbell Staton of Princeton University, Jonathan Lussos of Washington University in St. Louis, William Revell of the University of Massachusetts in Boston, Universidad Católica de la Santísima Concepcion in Chile, Brian Ferelli of Virginia Commonwealth University, and Anthony Geneva. Rutgers University – Camden.

more information:
Winchell, Christine M et al., Genome-wide parallelism underlies contemporary adaptation in urban lizards, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2023). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2216789120. doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2216789120

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