Semicircular canals in Anolis lizards: Ecomorphological convergence and ecomorph affinities of fossil species

Blake V. Dickson, Emma Sherratt, Jonathan B. Losos, Stephanie E. Pierce

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17 Scopus citations


Anolis lizards are a model system for the study of adaptive radiation and convergent evolution. Greater Antillean anoles have repeatedly evolved six similar forms or ecomorphs: crown-giant, grass-bush, twig, trunk, trunk-crown and trunk ground. Members of each ecomorph category possess a specific set of morphological, ecological and behavioural characteristics which have been acquired convergently. Here we test whether the semicircular canal system—the organ of balance during movement—is also convergent among ecomorphs, reflecting the shared sensory requirements of their ecological niches. As semicircular canal shape has been shown to reflect different locomotor strategies, we hypothesized that each Anolis ecomorph would have a unique canal morphology. Using three-dimensional semilandmarks and geometric morphometrics, semicircular canal shape was characterized in 41 Anolis species from the Greater Antilles and the relationship between canal shape and ecomorph grouping, phylogenetic history, size, head dimensions, and perch characteristics was assessed. Further, canal morphology of modern species was used to predict the ecomorph affinity of five fossil anoles from the Miocene of the Dominican Republic. Of the covariates tested, our study recovered ecomorph as the single-most important covariate of canal morphology in modern taxa; although phylogenetic history, size, and head dimensions also showed a small, yet significant correlation with shape. Surprisingly, perch characteristics were not found to be significant covariates of canal shape, even though they are important habitat variables. Using posterior probabilities, we found that the fossil anoles have different semicircular canals shapes to modern ecomorph groupings implying extinct anoles may have been interacting with their Miocene environment in different ways to modern Anolis species.

Original languageEnglish
Article number170058
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 11 2017


  • Anoles
  • Bony labyrinth
  • Ecomorphology
  • Geometric morphometrics
  • Inner ear
  • Three-dimensional


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