Population increase and changes in behavior and morphology in the critically endangered Redonda ground lizard (Pholidoscelis atratus) following the successful removal of alien rats and goats.
Redonda is a small volcanic Caribbean island that is home to at least 4 endemic lizard species, including the Critically Endangered ground lizard (Pholidoscelis atratus). Black rats (Rattus rattus) and domestic goats (Capra hircus) were introduced to the island at some time after its discovery by Europeans in the late 1500s. They had a devastating effect on the island, resulting in the loss of nearly all trees and most of the ground vegetation. Point count surveys of P. atratus in 2012 indicated low densities, and the invasive rats were observed hunting and preying on the lizards. Both populations of rats and goats were successfully removed in 2017 as part of an ecological restoration program, and native vegetation and invertebrate populations have increased rapidly since. Population surveys in 2017, 2018, and 2019 show the lizard population has increased by more than sixfold. In 2017, as rats and goats were being removed, we evaluated the morphology and escape behavior of this species and repeated these measurements 1 year later. We observed that P. atratus had become bolder, with a reduced flight distance. We also detected changes in limb morphology related to locomotion and suggest possible explanations that will need to be further investigated in the future. These results show how the removal of invasive species can rapidly affect lizard population recovery and behavior, potentially restoring island ecosystems to their pre-human interference dynamics.