Royal Society Publishing

Evidence for habitat partitioning based on adaptation to environmental light in a pair of sympatric lizard species

Manuel Leal , Leo J. Fleishman


Terrestrial habitats exhibit a variety of light environments. If species exhibit evolutionary adaptations of their visual system or signals to habitat light conditions, then these conditions can directly influence the structure of communities. We evaluated habitat light characteristics and visual–signal design in a pair of sympatric species of lizards: Anolis cooki and Anolis cristatellus. We found that each species occupies a distinct microhabitat with respect to light intensity and spectral quality. We measured the relative retinal spectral sensitivity and found significant differences between the species that correlate with differences in habitat spectral quality. We measured the spectral reflectance of the dewlaps (colourful throat fans used in communication), and found that the A. cooki dewlap reflects little ultraviolet (UV), while that of A. cristatellus reflects strongly in the UV. For both species downwelling light (irradiance) is rich in UV. However the background light (radiance) is rich in UV for A. cooki, but low in UV for A. cristatellus. Thus, the dewlap of each species creates a high contrast with the background in the UV. Our findings strongly suggest that these two species are partitioning their habitat through specializations of the visual system and signal design to microhabitat light conditions.