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Population density of the tropical lizard Anolis cristatellus in urban and forested habitats after a major hurricane

Abstract

Urbanization, the process whereby natural environments are modified for human habitation, is increasing worldwide. Many species are extirpated from urban settings, but others can survive and thrive in this environment. Few studies have compared population densities between urban and natural sites and none have investigated how hurricanes might interact with urbanization to affect animal species population dynamics in cities, which is crucial in evaluating population persistence in urban habitats. We quantified post-hurricane population dynamics between urban and forest populations of the tropical lizard Anolis cristatellus in paired urban and forest sites across the island of Puerto Rico at 4, 11, and 16 months following Hurricane Maria. Though we lacked pre-hurricane population density data, we expected lower than normal densities after the hurricane and a gradual increase through time. We found that urban population density was lower compared to natural areas across all pairs of sites. In forested areas, we found increases in perch density, likely associated with post-disturbance succession, but urban structural habitats remained relatively constant through time, with most hurricane-damaged vegetation being rapidly removed by humans. The two sites in our study that were most heavily impacted by the hurricane initially doubled in population density, and density continued to increase through our sampling period. Our findings suggest that hurricanes and urbanization can interact to shape population dynamics in lizards. Moreover, urban sites experience constant human modifications. As such, understanding population dynamics of urban species will require careful consideration of the effect of human intervention in these habitats.

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Acknowledgements

Nearly 3000 people are now thought to have lost their lives on the island of Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria or in the aftermath (Kishore et al. 2018; Santos-Burgoa et al. 2018). We recognize the devastating effects this hurricane had on the island of Puerto Rico and its people. We are extremely grateful to the support we received from Alberto Puente Rolón, Sondra Vega Castillo and Fernando Bird Picó who aided us with the logistic of field work during a time when many parts of the island were without electrical power. We are also grateful to the fieldwork assistance of Cleo Falvey. Lastly, we are thankful to the Department of Natural Resources in Puerto Rico who provided access to forested sites at a time when they were all closed to the public. This study was conducted under permits from the Puerto Rico Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales (DRNA, 2018, R-VS-PVS15-SJ-00685-28022018). Animal procedures were approved by institutional animal care and use committees (IACUC) at the University of Massachusetts Boston IACUC 2012001.

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Funding was provided by Division of Environmental Biology (1354044).

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Correspondence to Kevin J. Avilés-Rodríguez.

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Avilés-Rodríguez, K.J., De León, L.F. & Revell, L.J. Population density of the tropical lizard Anolis cristatellus in urban and forested habitats after a major hurricane. Trop Ecol (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42965-022-00251-z

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s42965-022-00251-z

Keywords

  • Anolis cristatellus
  • Hurricane Maria
  • Puerto Rico
  • Population density
  • Tropical storms
  • Urbanization