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Evolution. 2009 May;63(5):1262-78. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00635.x. Epub 2009 Feb 2.

Tail shedding in island lizards [Lacertidae, Reptilia]: decline of antipredator defenses in relaxed predation environments.

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  • 1School of Natural Resources & Environment, Dana Hall, 440 Church St., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA.


The ability of an animal to shed its tail is a widespread antipredator strategy among lizards. The degree of expression of this defense is expected to be shaped by prevailing environmental conditions including local predation pressure. We test these hypotheses by comparing several aspects of caudal autotomy in 15 Mediterranean lizard taxa existing across a swath of mainland and island localities that differ in the number and identity of predator species present. Autotomic ease varied substantially among the study populations, in a pattern that is best explained by the presence of vipers. Neither insularity nor the presence of other types of predators explain the observed autotomy rates. Final concentration of accumulated tail muscle lactate and duration of movement of a shed tail, two traits that were previously thought to relate to predation pressure, are in general not shaped by either predator diversity or insularity. Under conditions of relaxed predation selection, an uncoupling of different aspects of caudal autotomy exists, with some elements (ease of autotomy) declining faster than others (duration of movement, lactate concentration). We compared rates of shed tails in the field against rates of laboratory autotomies conducted under standardized conditions and found very high correlation values (r > 0.96). This suggests that field autotomy rates, rather than being a metric of predatory attacks, merely reflect the innate predisposition of a taxon to shed its tail.

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