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Ocean currents mediate evolution in island lizards

Nature volume 426, pages 552555 (04 December 2003) | Download Citation

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Abstract

Islands are considered to be natural laboratories in which to examine evolution because of the implicit assumption that limited gene flow allows tests of evolutionary processes in isolated replicates1. Here we show that this well-accepted idea requires re-examination. Island inundation during hurricanes can have devastating effects on lizard populations in the Bahamas2,3. After severe storms, islands may be recolonized by over-water dispersal of lizards from neighbouring islands3. High levels of gene flow may homogenize genes responsible for divergence, and are widely viewed as a constraining force on evolution4,5. Ultimately, the magnitude of gene flow determines the extent to which populations diverge from one another, and whether or not they eventually form new species6,7. We show that patterns of gene flow among island populations of Anolis lizards are best explained by prevailing ocean currents, and that over-water dispersal has evolutionary consequences. Across islands, divergence in fitness-related morphology decreases with increasing gene flow5. Results suggest that over-water dispersal after hurricanes constrains adaptive diversification in Anolis lizards, and that it may have an important but previously undocumented role in this classical example of adaptive radiation.

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Acknowledgements

We thank P. Beerli and N. Manoukis for technical support using Migrate. T. Georges, J. Harlan and T. Lee provided helpful discussions concerning the action of ocean currents. D. Irwin, J. Levine, J. Losos, B. Mila and B. Sinervo provided helpful comments that improved the manuscript. We thank the Commonwealth of the Bahamas for permission to conduct research, and NSF and UCLA for financial support.

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Affiliations

  1. Center for Tropical Research, Institute of the Environment, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90065, USA

    • Ryan Calsbeek
    •  & Thomas B. Smith
  2. Organismic Biology, Ecology and Evolution, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90065, USA

    • Thomas B. Smith

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The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Ryan Calsbeek.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02143

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