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:

For additional press about the research I recommend articles by Ed Yong in The Atlantic, Elaina Zachos at National Geographic, Joshua Rapp Learn at Smithsonian Magazine, Kat Eschner at Popular Science, Andrew Freedman at Axios, Seth Borenstein at The Associated Press, and an interview with Marco Werman on PRI’s The World.


Here also is a video from National Geographic:

And here is one last (hilarious) video put together by the French CNRS: