Recolonization of secondary forests by a locally extinct Caribbean anole through the lens of range expansion theory


Disturbance and recovery dynamics are characteristic features of many ecosystems. Disturbance dynamics are widely studied in ecology and conservation biology. Still, we know less about the ecological processes that drive ecosystem recovery. The ecological processes that mediate ecosystem recovery stand at the intersection of many theoretical frameworks. Range expansion theory is one of these complementary frameworks that can provide unique insights into the population-level processes that mediate ecosystem recovery, particularly fauna recolonization. Although the biodiversity patterns that follow the fauna recolonization of recovering forests have been well described in the literature, the ecological processes at the population level that drive these patterns remain conspicuously unknown. In this study, we tested three fundamental predictions of range expansion theory during the recolonization of recovering forests in Puerto Rico by a shade specialist anole, Anolis gundlachi. Range expansion theory predicts that individuals at the early stages of recolonization (i.e., younger forests) would have a high prevalence of dispersive traits, experience less density dependence, and suffer less parasitism. To test these predictions, we conducted a chronosequence study applying space-for-time substitution where we compared phenotypic traits (i.e., body size, body condition, and relative limb size), population density, population growth rates, and Plasmodium parasitism rates among lizard populations living in young (<30 years), mid (~40–70 years), and old-growth forests (>75 years). Lizard populations in younger forests had lower densities, higher population growth rates, and lower rates of Plasmodium parasitism compared with old-growth forests. Still, while we found that individuals had larger body sizes, and longer forelimbs in young forests in one site, this result was not consistent among sites. This suggests a potential trade-off between the traits that provide a dispersal advantage during the initial stages of recolonization and those that are advantageous to establish in novel environmental conditions. Overall, our study emphasizes the suitability of range expansion theory to describe fauna recolonization but also highlights that the ecological processes that drive recolonization are time-dependent, complex, and nuanced.

Ecological Applications
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Miguel Acevedo
Miguel Acevedo
Assistant Professor of Quantitative Wildlife Population Ecology

My research interests include global change, lizard malaria, and quantitative applications for conservation planning.

Carly Fankhauser
Carly Fankhauser
MS (2024) Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida

My research interests include tropical ecology, molecular ecology, and quantitative ecology.