The new lizard is a Greater Antillean anole named Anolis landestoyi after Miguel Landestoy, the naturalist who first spotted and photographed the species.
Scientists previously believed there were no other species like the Cuban anoles from the Chamaeleolis group living on other Greater Antillean islands — that is, until Anolis landestoyi was discovered.
Anolis landestoyi is already threatened, as the species is restricted to a unique habitat in a small area of western Dominican Republic that is being decimated by illegal deforestation.
A chameleon-like lizard is one of the first new anole species found in the Dominican Republic in decades. The species could help solve a mystery that has long puzzled scientists — but it’s already at risk.
The new lizard is a Greater Antillean anole that has been named Anolis landestoyi after Miguel Landestoy, the naturalist who first spotted and photographed the species. Landestoy sent a photo of the lizard to a colleague, Luke Mahler of the University of Toronto’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology.
“As soon as I saw the pictures, I thought, ‘I need to buy a plane ticket,’” Mahler, the lead author of an article describing the new species published this month in The American Naturalist, said in a statement.
“Our immediate thought was that this looks like something that’s supposed to be in Cuba, not in Hispaniola — the island that Haiti and the Dominican Republic share. We haven’t really seen any completely new species here since the early 1980s.”
Greater Antillean anoles are a group of related species that evolved on different islands. As they diversified over time, however, they evolved into sets of similar species occupying the same ecological niches — a phenomenon known as replicated adaptive radiation.
Thus, most Greater Antillean anoles might be expected to have a matching counterpart on another island, though scientists have observed that roughly one-fifth of the region’s anole species are exceptions to that rule.
One such unique lizard is a Cuban anole from the Chamaeleolis group, which look less like typical anoles and more like chameleons: they’re large and slow-moving and like to clinging to lichen-covered branches high in forest canopies. Scientists previously believed there were no other species like the Cuban lizards on other Greater Antillean islands.
That is, until Anolis landestoyi was discovered in the Dominican Republic and found to bear a strong resemblance to Cuba’s Chamaeleolis anoles.
“Like the discovery of a missing puzzle piece, Anolis landestoyi clarifies our view of replicated adaptive radiation in anoles,” Mahler said.
Anolis landestoyi is already threatened, as the species is restricted to a unique habitat in a small area of western Dominican Republic that is being decimated by illegal deforestation. Mahler said he hopes that the discovery of the new lizard will lead to more attention being focused on conservation issues in the region.
Mahler and his team now hope to determine whether Anolis landestoyi evolved on Hispaniola to be similar to Cuba’s Chamaeleolis anoles — the two are close relatives, but are not next of kin — or if the similarity between the species is the result of shared ancestry.
“We don’t know if it’s convergence or the fact that it’s pretty closely related to Chamaeleolis, which may have colonized Hispaniola from Cuba,” Mahler said. “But either way, things are more similar across these two islands than we thought.”
Mahler, D. L., Lambert, S. M., Geneva, A. J., Ng, J., Hedges, S. B., Losos, J. B., & Glor, R. E. (2016). Discovery of a Giant Chameleon-Like Lizard (Anolis) on Hispaniola and Its Significance to Understanding Replicated Adaptive Radiations.The American Naturalist, 188(3), 000-000. doi:10.1086/687566