I’ll give you the full spiel on my research plans in bits and pieces so as not to bore you. For now, the big picture:
My research centers around the impacts of human land use on ecological systems. I’m focusing primarily on a Greek Wall Lizard, Podarcis erhardii, which lives in the Cyclades. I hypothesize that, due to grazing which destroys lizard habitat, rock wall building which creates favorable refuges for lizards, and exotic species introductions which bring predators and competitors to the islands, the behavior, physical appearance and physiology of these lizards has changed.
How am I going to test this? Most of the projects I am planning for this summer revolve around rock walls. Based on a bit of preliminary data and some anecdotal evidence, rock walls seem to be the refuge of choice for erhardii, where they are available, and end up concentrating the lizards in high densities. To test whether lizards living on rock walls are in fact different from their kin living out in the open, I’ll be conducting a series of surveys looking at lizard behavior, physical features like leg length and head shape, and physiological characteristics such as digestive efficiency. I’ll save why I’m so interested in these particular features for a future post.
Why do we care whether lizards living on rock walls have slightly shorter legs or spend more of their time basking? Because changes in behavior, morphology and physiology have been shown to have cascading effects on entire ecosystems. If humans are indeed fundamentally altering how these lizards interact with their environment, I anticipate indirect effects on the insect and plant communities of these islands. This is where I hope to go with this project long-term, and I will be collecting pilot data on this question over the summer.