Convergent evolution of similar form by distantly related species is a common feature of organismal evolution and among the most tangible signatures of natural selection. Anolis lizards in the Caribbean provide a textbook example, with species similar in morphology, ecology and behavior arising independently in similar habitats on each of the Greater Antillean islands. This project exploits the diversity and repeated evolution of coloration in Anolis lizards to study the genetic basis of convergent evolution. Using RNA-sequencing and detailed phenotypic characterization, this study will identify genes associated with colorful pigmentation and determine if convergence results from changes in the same genes and developmental pathways. Illuminating the genetics of convergent evolution will enrich our understanding of the evolutionary process, and insight into the genetics of colorful pigmentation will have far-reaching impact on the study of vertebrate biology.
Because the diversity in Anolis dewlap color is so striking, this project presents a visually appealing example of evolution with broader impact on the educational and general community. The principal investigators will design a public exhibit at the Harvard Museum of Natural History to highlight the genetic basis of convergent evolution and coloration, illuminate the research process, and teach basic lessons about adaptive radiation and evolution. The exhibit will be made available to other museums. Also, undergraduates in this project will complete species pages for the Encyclopedia of Life for each species in this study. These web pages are easily accessible and will contain data summaries, photographs and videos. They will serve as useful resource for students, educators and the media.