Hurricanes and Natural Selection

Hurricanes are immensely destructive and 2017 was a particularly extreme year. Last September, we were surveying Anolis scriptus populations in Turks and Caicos just before Hurricane Irma hit the islands. We realized that, just from being in the right place at the right time, we had a unique dataset that might inform whether Hurricanes can be agents of natural selection. Other extreme climate events have been shown to have evolutionary implications. So, we revisited the islands six weeks (and two hurricanes) after our first visit. We found significant shifts in both the limb dimensions and toepad surface area of the surviving lizards relative to the populations we’d sampled before the storms. These trait shifts, we think, may have given those lizard survivors a clinging advantage during the hurricane’s strong winds.

The study was recently published in Nature and I’ve written more about the background of the paper here.

And here’s a terrific video from Nature about the paper: