More fieldwork on the horizon

The Redonda posts have trailed off because I’m neck-deep in prepping for the next two trips this field season. I’ve still got a few more Redonda stories in mind to write up though so I’ll try to get them posted before I leave next week. I have to tell you about the next trips though!


Next Saturday I’m headed to the Bahamas for a quick 2 week and 2 day trip to catch Anolis sagrei, the “festive anole.” This is the last field foray of my first postdoc and the second round of sampling in the Bahamas that I was a part of last fall. You can read the posts Here, here, a little disaster here, and more pretty pictures here.

We’ll be surveying lizards on three islands: Eleuthera, Long Island, and Bimini. In each of those islands we’ll be looking for lizards in two habitats – “primary” undisturbed forest and coastal beach scrub to test for differences in morphology between the populations. We’ll also be taking 360 lizards home with us to breed here in the lizard colony. Whew, sorting out those logistics – permitting, charting flights for the lizards (yes, actually), storing them happily for long periods of time – has been a huge challenge.

To help, I’m going to have 6 people along in the field with me. This is going to be great but means we’ve had to find and sort out 4 train rides, 5 car rentals, and a total of 29 different flights. I’ll be on 8 of those flights over the 16 days! I’ll try to keep posting from the field; you’re going to see some familiar faces. Rob has caught lizards with me in Connecticut before, Geoff was with me in Redonda, and Angus was one of my old field assistants in Greece!


Rob with his first Podarcis

photo copy

(Sorry, Angus, I was looking through old pictures and I just couldn’t resist)

Three days after getting back from the Bahamas I’m hopping on a plane to Greece! Just enough time to do some laundry. Whew!

This Greece trip is another revisit to the island manipulation experiment. The islands are steadily filling up with lizards (I think… Greece did get record snow this year…) and this time around we’ve got a lot of projects going. Anthony and I will be back measuring morphology and bite force, Menelia will be there with her sprint speed setup. Kinsey is back! This time looking at the lizards’ throat color. All in all I’ll have 10 people there running around so, again, coordinating everything has been a huge effort.


Menelia’s hoping we won’t have this much stuff this year. Shhh… nobody tell her we’re actually gonna have 5 kayaks to haul around!


Kinsey’s excited to get back to Greece!

I’ll be in Greece until the end of May when I’m headed back to Cambridge for a much quieter summer. Stay tuned for all of the stories from the field!


And some high-speed videos

Yesterday’s post was a bit of teaser for the setup of the high-speed video. Now let’s see a couple of examples! (For full effect, I’d recommend playing this on full volume in the background. Rest assured, once we have a highlight reel of lizard runs we’ll definitely be creating a montage of our own)

There’s all sorts of cool stuff going on in this video I had never seen before. For example, notice as the fellow is running into the frame at full tilt he does a little hop and lands with all four feet planted and comes to an almost immediate halt. He then looks left to right to survey his surroundings, and as my big scary hand approaches, turns, pushes off with forelimbs and then generates speed with some big back-leg strides that cause his back to twist with the momentum. He navigates the corners cleanly, but slowly, pausing to look around the corner. Remember though, all of this happens within the span of about a second and a half in real-time.

Now look at this enthusiastic fellow:

He comes barreling in and can’t stop to notice the impending wall. His first crash just turns his head but he sure doesn’t look like he’s attempting to negotiate the turn. At the second crash he crumples and decides a different tact might be best; perhaps climbing the wall and getting out (though it looks more like he’s tap dancing). Again, all of this is happening faster than the eye can really register but at 500 frames per second we’re given a new perspective on these two very different runs.

So now comes the analysis, and this is going to be tricky. Menelia recorded 885 videos and each averages about 2.5 seconds in length. At 500 frames per second that works out to some 1.1 million frames of video to process… Know any good books on tape?

High-speed Sprint Speed

I’ve posted in the past about the lizard sprint speed studies I’ve tried over the years on erhardii. Each of those experiments have come with the caveat that without a high-speed camera (shooting around 500 frames per second and costing the down-payment for a house) we can’t detect more subtle differences between lizard populations. Well, this year Menelia brought a beautiful high-speed camera from her home institution in Antwerp and we had fun finally getting a good look at these lizards on the run.

IMG_3501First steps, warm up the lizards. We used individual socks this year – a major innovation that made it a lot easier to be sure each lizard did their trial run before the next, and sped the process up without having to chase the lizard around the bin.

IMG_3512Then the white dots. These dots show up nice and clear in the video camera and help track the back of the head, the midpoint between shoulders and hips, and the middle of the back. Hopefully these will make processing the video a lot easier.

IMG_3515Here’s our setup. Note the two rainbow kiddie pools (hard not to notice them). This was a major improvement! The lizards would come rocketing out of the sprint speed track and land on the nice inflated pool floor, ready for us to scoop them up back into their sock.

Notice too that the sprint speed track has a couple of right-angle turns in it. One of Menelia’s questions deals with maneuverability and so we were anxious to see how well the lizards negotiated both the first, and second turns in the course.


Here’s the camera’s eye view. Beautiful! Time to run the lizards.

It’s Working!

I’m about to fall into bed after and before another big day of lizard catching tomorrow but just a quick update because I’m really excited. The island manipulation experiment is working! We’ve revisited two of the islands so far – actually the two least productive I think – and the lizards have made it. What’s more, several of last year’s individuals sporting flashy PIT tags (read more and watch a video about that from last year) have survived. It’s such a delightful feeling catching a lizard, seeing that little bump, bagging it, and then waving a little magic wand over the bag to figure out who the lizard was. In fact, it’s such a terrific feeling I’ve video recorded it and uploaded a video so you can experience it as well. Enjoy!

More from the field soon but I’ve put a bet down that we’re going to catch 50 lizards on Agios Artemios so I’m going to get some sleep! Kali Nichta!

Kanena provlema

“Kanena provlema.” That’s what our taxi driver kept saying. Ultimately we made it, but getting the our kayaks, bags, and research equipment from the castle to the port on Naxos, and ultimately Paros was anything but “No problems.”


First, as you can see, the kayaks fit in his taxi only in the most generous of senses. We got them in, and what’s more, they stayed, but only just barely. Luckily he showed admirable restraint on the bumpy, usually speedy, roads between the Castle and the Blue Star Ferry terminal.

As you might have been able to guess, Menelia (a PhD student at the University of Antwerp, and a partner in previous expeditions) and I had 2 kayaks, our personal stuff for a week or more on Paros, and three different bags/containers with research supplies in them. Last year we had Anthony along to help with the juggling, however this year we were meeting Anthony on Paros so it was up to us to get it all on and off the boat. What’s more, we opted to take the high-speed ferry between Naxos and Paros which seemingly doesn’t even stop at the dock, just idles its engines long enough to get people on the ramp before it departs again. Poor Menelia, our plan was to do the loading in shifts – I took the kayaks and a few bags aboard and went out to help with the massive tupperware of heavy research supplies only to find that she’d been yelled at by the port authority in the 2 minutes I’d been gone to get on the boat or get left behind. She started hurriedly pushing the tupperware chest most of the way up the boat ramp while loaded down with 3 bags herself. We never did find the water bottles we’d bought for the trip, they got cast aside in the hubbub I think. She was the last on the boat and by the time I got back to her, maybe only 3 minutes later, they were already lifting the ramp to depart.


We managed our exit a little more carefully after the hectic and exhausting loading. Here we are, all smiles; though my smile is really a grimace — the double-crossed kayaks were cutting off airflow something fierce every time they shifted forward. The unloading was quite a bit easier though, at least we knew we’d be rushed and so were in the starting blocks ready to go. We shuffle-sprinted down the ramp and dropped all of our supplies just on the jetty, careful to avoid the cars rushing past to get their spot on the ferry before it left.


And here we are, a view of the pile and the ferry just before it left. The pile doesn’t look that impressive but match the bags with the previous pictures for scale. With luck the rest of the trip should be a lot easier! (yeah, right…)

Surprise, I’m back in Greece!

Well, it was a bit of a surprise to me! This spring has flown by between my dissertation defense and post-doc hunting; trips to California, Minnesota, New York, and Maine; and now the start of a very quick field season in Greece to revisit the introduction islands for the next week and a half. After that it’s back home to walk in graduation, start a post-doc project (more soon on that progress) and finish preparations for getting married in July!

I’ve got a few ferry rides coming up so I’ll try to tell a few stories about how things are going but with the schedule as tight as it is I might continue to be lax about updating the blog. Sorry. For now though, here are a few pictures from so far.

IMG_3469I’m back staying in the Castle on Naxos. Every year I feel so lucky to have access to this amazing place. I swear they added stairs getting up to the top of the hill this year though…


Another Castle shot from a well courtyard – I think I finally found a photo angle that I haven’t used on the blog yet.

IMG_3473And, as always, Naxos is just beautiful.


Of course, it wouldn’t be my traditional “I’m back in Greece” blog post without pictures of some of my favorite foods. I had some delicious moussaka and souvlaki too but I was too excited to take pictures before digging in.


We’re off to Paros in a couple of hours to get ready for tomorrow’s first island revisit! Can’t wait to see how the lizards are doing! Stay tuned!

Lizards on small islands bite harder than lizards on big islands… and why!

This Fall, one of my big data-driven dissertation chapters was published in Functional Ecology. The paper is called “Feed or Fight: Testing the impact of food availability and intraspecific aggression on the functional ecology of an island lizard.”

Long story short: we found that lizards on small islands were larger than lizards on big islands. Even more interesting though was that we found these small island lizards had proportionally stronger bites, that means, even controlling for the differences in body size, these lizards were biting especially hard. Now there are two big reasons we might expect lizards on small islands to have harder bites: one, hard bites enable them to eat more defended food, things like beetles and snails, that they wouldn’t have to eat on a big island with lots of juicy insects. Another explanation is that on small islands, lizards need a strong bite force to fight off other lizards and protect valuable resources – food, territories, or access to mates. Both stories make sense, but we set out to test which proved to be the stronger driver for P. erhardii in the Cyclades.

It turns out the answer is that bite force seems to be more related to the levels of lizard-on-lizard competition between islands. After flushing the stomachs of hundreds of lizards and painstakingly identifying all those little bug parts (see post here) the diets of the lizards weren’t all that different (at least in terms of hardness).

With the help of my brother, Ross, we’ve put together a video to talk about the paper. Give it a look here! He did a tremendous job of it! And (shameless plug) if you’re looking for a videographer for your own work, give him a call!