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Adaptation and Speciation Studies at White Sands NM Image 4
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Adaptation and Speciation Studies at White Sands, N.M. (Image 4)

February 13, 2013
The lesser earless lizard (Holbrookia maculata) is one of several species that exhibit light body color at White Sands, N.M. In the rest of its range this species is brown, to match the Chihuahuan Desert soil color (bottom). But at White Sands the species is light, to match the white dunes (top). Scientists from the lab of Erica Bree Rosenblum, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Science Policy and Management at the University of California, Berkeley, have identified the specific mutations that turn White Sands lizards white. They also have conducted experiments to see whether White Sands lizards are becoming new species. For example, these earless lizards will preferentially choose other White Sands lizards as mates. Therefore researchers can study both adaptation and speciation at White Sands. The stark, white dunes of White Sands are an ideal environment to observe evolution in action. These dunes are geologically very young--only a few thousand years old--and in that time, a number of animals have adapted to this new environment. Natural selection has favored lighter colored animals on the dunes for camouflage against the white sand and avoidance of predators. Species of mammal, reptile and insect have rapidly developed adaptations to this unusual environment. This research was supported by National Science Foundation grant DEB 03-09327. As of 2011, the research is now supported by an NSF CAREER (Faculty Early Career Advancement) program award. For more information about this research, see the NSF press release Looks Can Be Deceiving, or visit the Rosenblum lab website. Credit: Erica Bree Rosenblum, University of Idaho