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Volume 570 Issue 7759, 6 June 2019

Community crisis

The way in which the introduction of predators into island ecosystems affects other species is investigated by Robert Pringle and his team in this week’s issue. The researchers looked at 16 Bahamian islands, where the top native predator was the semi-terrestrial brown anole lizard (Anolis sagrei). To some islands, the researchers introduced combinations of the tree-dwelling green anole (Anolis smaragdinus) and, as a predator of both anole species, the ground-dwelling curly-tailed lizard (Leiocephalus carinatus). The team then followed changes to population size, habitat use and diet for the three species over the course of six years. On islands lacking the curly-tailed lizard, the two species of anole coexisted, occupying separate dietary and habitat niches. But on the four islands where L. carinatus was also introduced, fear of predation pushed the brown anoles to seek safety in the trees, where they competed with green anoles for resources, driving the latter extinct on two of the islands. The researchers note that this example of ‘refuge competition’ shows that top predators do not necessarily promote increased biodiversity, and that the risk of predation can destabilize species coexistence.

Cover image: Kiyoko M. Gotanda

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