National Geographic Young Explorer Neil Losin is a biologist, photographer, and filmmaker pursuing his Ph.D. in UCLA’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Neil studies the evolution of territoriality in invasive Anolis lizards in South Florida
Meet the Contenders
I’ve spent the last three months in Miami, studying lizards in the genus Anolis. I study the ways that closely related species interact, and how their interactions affect each species’ ecology and evolution.
Anoles in Florida are a great study system for addressing my research questions. They’re common, fiercely territorial, and they’ve been the subject of evolutionary and ecological research for decades. In South Florida, several exotic species have recently become established alongside the native green anole (Anolis carolinensis), so there are plenty of species interactions to observe.
I’ve chosen to focus on two Caribbean lizards with very similar habits. The Brown Anole of Cuba (Anolis sagrei) and the Crested Anole of Puerto Rico (Anolis cristatellus) have only been living together in South Florida for a few decades. My goal is to understand how these species manage to coexist, despite the potential for competition.
The Battle at Hand
One of my goals this season is to figure out just how intensely the two species compete in nature. How can I accomplish this? Well, one way to determine the effect that one species has on another is to perform a “removal experiment,” removing one species and observing what happens to individuals of the other species. Do their territories get larger? Does the way they use the habitat change? Do they catch more prey, or grow faster?
These experiments take a lot of work! We have to mark lots of individuals so we can keep track of them throughout the experiment, then observe each anole carefully before and after the “removal” occurs. This short video reveals my removal experiment and shows how–with the help of some excellent field assistants–I’m making it happen.