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Adaptation and Speciation Studies at White Sands NM Image 10
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Adaptation and Speciation Studies at White Sands, N.M. (Image 10)

February 13, 2013
Erica Bree Rosenblum, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Science Policy and Management at the University of California, Berkeley, is studying adaptation and speciation at White Sands, N.M., and is working to understand how natural selection can lead to rapid evolutionary change. 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. Rosenblum has identified the specific mutations that turn White Sands' lizards white. Her team has also conducted experiments to see whether White Sands' lizards are becoming new species. For example, earless lizards will preferentially choose other White Sands' lizards as mates. Therefore, researchers can study both adaptation and speciation at White Sands. This research was supported by National Science Foundation grant DEB 03-09327. The research is now supported by an NSF CAREER (Faculty Early Career Advancement) program award, as of 2011. 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