How quickly can new species form, and how predictable is evolution in nature? This project will address these questions in an ideal setting to study evolution in action. Multiple lizard species have evolved white coloration for camouflage in the gypsum dunes of White Sands, New Mexico. These species are undergoing the process of speciation on an extraordinarily rapid timescale. This project will illuminate the factors that accelerate the process of speciation in White Sands lizards. Field studies in nature and genetics studies in the lab will be used to understand how natural selection can lead so quickly to adaptation and speciation.
The white lizards at White Sands provide a compelling, accessible example of evolution and represent a tremendous opportunity for research and public outreach. From an educational perspective this grant will increase scientific literacy and demystify evolutionary concepts for the public. The research will be integrated with educational outreach activities that use the dramatic landscape of White Sands to teach evolutionary biology to the general public. Outreach activities include offering a short "lizard camp" for elementary school children, developing a bilingual English-Spanish museum exhibit about evolution, and disseminating research results in textbooks, magazines and in the popular press.