Hurricane Irma induces divergent behavioral and hormonal impacts on an urban and forest population of invasive Anolis lizards: evidence for an urban resilience hypothesis.
Hurricanes can have both profound short-term effects on animal populations and serve as long-term drivers of evolutionary change. Animals inhabiting varying habitats may differ in their response to hurricane impacts. Increasing evidence suggests that animals from urban areas exhibit different behavioral and physiological traits compared to rural counterparts, including attenuated hormonal stress responses and a lowered propensity for flight behavior. A unique opportunity was presented when Hurricane Irma hit Florida on 10 September 2017 and interrupted a study of invasive brown anoles (Anolis sagrei) at an urban and a forest. Using data collected before and after Hurricane Irma, we documented that forest anoles exhibited a greater avoidance of people and more male territorial behavior for a longer period of time following the hurricane. Post-hurricane both populations increased corticosterone concentrations post-capture stress, but urban anoles recovered 2 weeks faster than forest conspecifics. A dexamethasone suppression experiment suggested that these population differences were the result of forest anoles having a less effective negative feedback regulating corticosterone secretion. In the brain, forest anoles had higher corticosterone concentrations within the amygdala and parts of the cortex associated with stress than urban lizards. One explanation may be Hurricane Irma brought flooding and debris that altered the landscape leading to behavioral instability, and urban lizards already exhibited ecological adjustments that permitted a more rapid recovery (i.e. the 'urban resilience' hypothesis). Testing if urban animals are more resilient to natural disasters can inform conservationists interested in understanding their role in facilitating invasive species expansion and what their increasing presence may indicate for animal populations.