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Elevation shapes the reassembly of Anthropocene lizard communities


Human impacts, especially land-use change, are precipitating biodiversity loss. Yet anthropogenic drivers are layered atop natural biogeographic gradients. We ask whether the effects of anthropogenic habitat conversion depend on climatic context. We studied the structure of Anolis lizard communities in intact and human-modified habitats across natural climate gradients in the northern Dominican Republic. Using community-wide mark–resight methods to control for detection bias, we show that the effects of habitat conversion reverse with elevation (and thus macroclimate temperature). Deforestation reduces abundance and biomass in lowland communities but has no such effect at high elevations. In contrast, forest loss results in no compositional change in the lowlands, but complete community turnover between habitats in the highlands. These contrasting community-level patterns emerge from consistent responses of individual species based on their thermal niches. Community reorganization in the highlands stems from thermal niche tracking and habitat switching by abundant lowland species. We find no support for the hypothesis that climate generalists outperform specialists to succeed in anthropogenic habitats. Instead, warm-climate specialists dominate anthropogenic habitats, even in cool macroclimates. Human impacts interact with pre-existing environmental gradients to reorganize biodiversity. Leveraging a biogeographic perspective will provide insight into the future communities of life on Earth.

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Fig. 1: Locations of study regions and distribution of canopy openness and elevation across study plots.
Fig. 2: Effect of elevation and canopy openness on species richness, abundance and biomass.
Fig. 3: Non-metric multidimensional scaling based on the balanced component of the Bray–Curtis dissimilarity index of posterior mean abundance of Anolis species in each plot.
Fig. 4: Effects of elevation and site type on within- and between-habitat β diversity.
Fig. 5: Negative interaction effects between MAT and canopy openness and their impact on species abundance.

Code availability

The codes for the multispecies mark–resight model and for all analyses and figures are available in the Figshare repository (

Data availability

The raw observation and inferred abundance datasets derived from the multi-species mark-resight model are available in the Figshare repository (


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We thank C. K. Boccia, S. Senthivasan, I. Borges, M. Balanaser, B. Downer-Bartholomew, M. A. Landestoy, M. J. Rodríguez Bobadilla, I. J. Wang, G. O. U. Wogan, P. L. Skipwith and L. Maier for help during fieldwork. Research permission was granted by the Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, Dominican Republic (0000818). A NSERC Discovery Grant (RGPIN-2015-04334) provided research funding. This research complies with CCAC ethics guidelines and was approved by the University of Toronto Local Animal Care Committee (AUC Protocol 20011469).

Author information




L.O.F. and D.L.M. designed the study. All authors collected the data. L.O.F. analysed the data. L.O.F. wrote the initial manuscript draft with D.L.M. All authors contributed to revisions.

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Correspondence to Luke O. Frishkoff.

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Frishkoff, L.O., Gabot, E., Sandler, G. et al. Elevation shapes the reassembly of Anthropocene lizard communities. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 638–646 (2019).

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