Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Nestled in the city heat: urban nesting behavior enhances embryo development of an invasive lizard.

Abstract

Urbanization transforms many aspects of natural landscapes and poses many new challenges for individual survival and population persistence. Thus, urbanization provides an opportunity to examine how organisms deal with novel environmental change. Many studies provide evidence of phenotypic adaptation to urban environments, but few focus on responses during early life stages. Filling this information gap is important, because early life stages are particularly sensitive to abiotic factors, and no population is sustainable without successful embryo development. We tested the hypotheses that (i) embryos tolerate warmer temperature conditions of urbanized areas and (ii) maternal nesting behavior protects embryos from potentially lethal thermal conditions in urbanized habitats. We studied introduced populations of a subtropical lizard, Anolis cristatellus, in suburban and forested areas in Miami, Florida. In each habitat, we measured microenvironment variables for locations that females used for nesting vs. locations they did not use. We then incubated eggs from both populations under thermal conditions that mimicked used and unused sites. Nests in the suburban site were warmer than in the forest; however, in the suburban site, locations that females used were relatively cool compared with locations that were not used. We found no evidence that embryos are adapted to their respective suburban or forested thermal environments, but rather maternal nest-site choice enhanced embryo development in the suburban habitat. Maternal nesting behavior is likely an important factor for population persistence under major environmental changes, and a key contributor to the establishment and spread of invasive organisms across urbanized landscapes.