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Beyond black and white: divergent behaviour and performance in three rapidly evolving lizard species at White Sands



Determining which traits enable organisms to colonize and persist in new environments is key to understanding adaptation and ecological speciation. New environments can present novel selective pressures on colonists' morphology, behaviour, and performance, collectively referred to as ecomorphology. To investigate ecomorphological change during adaptation and incipient ecological speciation, we measured differences in morphology (body shape and size), behaviour (startle response), and performance (sprint speed) in three New Mexican lizard species: Holbrookia maculata, Sceloporus undulatus, and Aspidoscelis inornata. Each species is represented by dark morphs, cryptic on the brown adobe soils of the Chihuahuan Desert, and white morphs, cryptic on the gypsum substrate of White Sands. For each species, we then determined the effects of morphology and startle response on sprint speed on matched and mismatched substrate. For two of the three species, white morphs had larger body size and longer limbs. However, we found no statistical evidence that these morphological differences affected sprint speed. Colour morphs also exhibited different escape responses on the two substrates: in all species, dark morphs were less likely to immediately sprint from a simulated predator on white sand. As a result, escape response had a significant effect on sprint speed for two of the three species. Not surprisingly, all lizards sprinted faster on dark soil, which was probably due to the lizards' more immediate escape response and the higher compaction of dark soil. The relationship between escape response and sprint performance across the dark soil and white sand habitats suggests that behavioural differences may be an important component of adaptation and speciation in new environments. © 2013 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2014, 111, 169–182.