Skip to main content

Ecological opportunity from innnovation, not islands, drove the Anole lizard adaptive radiation

Cite this dataset

Burress, Edward (2021). Ecological opportunity from innnovation, not islands, drove the Anole lizard adaptive radiation [Dataset]. Dryad.


Islands are thought to facilitate adaptive radiation by providing release from competition and predation. Anole lizards are considered a classic example of this phenomenon: different ecological specialists (‘ecomorphs’) evolved in the Caribbean Greater Antilles (Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico), resulting in convergent assemblages that are not observed in mainland Latin America. Yet, the role of islands in facilitating adaptive radiation is more often implied than directly tested, leaving uncertain the role of biogeography in stimulating diversification. Here, we assess the proposed “island effect” on anole diversification using Bayesian phylogenetic comparative methods that explicitly incorporate rate heterogeneity across the tree and demonstrate two cases of would-be false positives. We discovered that rates of speciation and morphological evolution of island and mainland anoles are equivalent, implying that islands provide no special context for exceptionally rapid diversification. Likewise, rates of evolution were equivalent between island anoles that arose via in situ versus dispersal-based mechanisms, and we found no evidence for island-specific rates of speciation or morphological evolution. Nonetheless, the origin of Anolis is characterized by a speciation pulse that slowed over time – a classic signature of waning ecological opportunity. Our findings cast doubt on the notion that islands catalyzed the anole adaptive radiation and instead point to a key innovation, adhesive toe pads, which facilitated the exploitation of many arboreal niches sparsely utilized by other iguanian lizards. The selective pressures responsible for arboreal niche diversification differ between islands and the mainland, but the tempo of diversification driven by these discordant processes is indistinguishable.


Discrete character data and ln-transformed continous character data used in the study (Excel file) and extended Methods and Results described in the main text (pdf).