We all adapt to life in the city, and animals are no exception.
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Lizards that live in cities develop a different genetic signature than those that live in the countryside and woods, a new study shows. These genetic variations endow them with physical differences, including larger toe pads and longer limbs — which are more favorable in urban environments.
Urbanization has dramatically altered landscapes around the world, changing the way animals interact with nature, creating hotter “heat islands” and affecting biodiversity. Although we think of cities as places where humans live, many other creatures also live with us in urban areas. In fact, many of them are finding ways to survive in urban environments for new types of man-made habitats.
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“Organisms living in urban environments face a variety of survival pressures, and they are forced to adapt to utilize new resources and deal with new stressors related to infrastructure, human activities,” NYU professor of biology and author of the study told ZME Science .
Winchell and her team studied the lizard Anolis cristatellus, a species found in urban and woodland areas of Puerto Rico. In previous research, they found that urban lizards had evolved certain traits to be able to live in cities. They have longer toes to grip smooth surfaces like walls, and longer limbs to sprint in the open.
In their new study, the researchers focused on a population of Anolis cristatellus lizards from three regions of Puerto Rico — San Juan, Arecibo and Mayaguez. They measured the lizard’s morphology to quantify limb length and foot size, and took tail samples to extract DNA — and then sequenced the part of the genome that codes for the gene.
The results confirmed that the lizard populations in the three Puerto Rico regions were genetically distinct from each other, so any similarities the team found between the lizards in the three cities were likely due to urbanization.
“Our study shows that adaptation to urbanization can occur in a predictable manner. This means that, at least in this species, lizards have genetic mechanisms that can produce the same morphological adaptations over and over again as populations settle in cities, ’” Winchell told ZME Science.
Urban lizards evolved differently than rural lizards – Photo 4.
The results open up many potential new areas of research, including one that could help us understand how organisms other than lizards are affected by stress, she added. Understanding how genetic changes affect the health, survival and reproduction of organisms could have implications for their survival as urbanization increases.
About 55 percent of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to rise to 68 percent by 2050, according to the United Nations. Urbanization, gradual migration from rural to urban areas, and population growth could result in the migration of an additional 2.5 billion people to urban areas, 90 percent of which will occur in Asia and Africa.
The size and color of each Anolis will vary depending on habitat, climate and diet. Depending on where they live and how they hunt, they can make physical adaptations such as large hind legs to jump great distances to catch prey, or if they live in tall trees and climb up from the ground, use thick The short legs climb up from prey to avoid being caught by predators when hunting.
They come in a variety of colors, but the most common are green and brown, as well as yellow and blue.
Anolis lizards are mostly solitary. They can live in close proximity, but usually don’t live in groups. Males will actively defend their territory during sexual maturity, otherwise they generally show varying degrees of docility and tolerance towards humans. Depending on the environment in which they live, various adaptive behaviors emerge.