Texas horned lizards (Phrynosoma cornutum) have disappeared from many areas in Texas, especially from urbanized areas, probably in large part due to loss of suitable habitat. Our previous studies have found that horned lizards persist and occur at high densities in some small towns in southern Texas. Nevertheless, this species has continued to decline and disappear from these towns. Long-term data from Kenedy and Karnes City indicate that when study sites experienced significant shrub and vegetation removal horned lizards declined by 79%. We hypothesize this may in part be due to the degradation of the thermal landscape for these lizards. We determined the preferred temperature range (Tset25 −Tset75) of lizards at our study sites and took field measurements of body temperature (Tb). Temperature loggers were also placed in three microhabitats across our study sites. Shrubs and vegetation provided the highest quality thermal environment, especially for about 5 hours midday when temperatures in the open and buried under the surface exceeded the lizards’ critical maximum temperature (CTmax) or were above their preferred temperature range. Horned lizard density was positively related to the thermal quality of the habitat across our sites. Texas horned lizards in these towns require a heterogenous mix of closely spaced microhabitats and especially thermal refugia, such as shrubs and vegetation along fence lines and in open fields. Maintaining thermal refugia is one of the most important and practical conservation actions that can be taken to help small ectotherms persist in human modified landscapes and cope with increasing temperatures due to climate change.
Interactions between invaders and resource availability may explain variation in their success or management efficacy. For widespread invaders, regional variation in plant response to nutrients can reflect phenotypic plasticity of the invader, genetic structure of invading populations, or a combination of the two. The wetland weed Alternanthera philoxeroides (alligatorweed) is established throughout the southeastern USA and California, and has high genetic diversity despite primarily spreading clonally. Despite its history in the USA, the role of genetic variation for invasion and management success is only now being uncovered. To better understand how nutrients and genotype may influence A. philoxeroides invasion, we measured the response of plants from 26 A. philoxeroides populations (three cp haplotypes) to combinations of nitrogen (4 or 200 mg/L N) and phosphorus (0.4 or 40 mg/L P). We measured productivity (biomass accumulation and allocation), plant architecture (stem diameter and thickness, branching intensity) and foliar traits (toughness, dry matter content, percent N, percent P). A short-term developmental assay was also conducted by feeding a subset of plants from the nutrient experiment to the biological control agent Agasicles hygrophila, to determine whether increased availability of N or P to its host influenced agent performance, as has been previously suggested. A. philoxeroides haplotype Ap1 was more plastic than other haplotypes in response to nutrient amendments, producing more than double the biomass from low to high N and 50-68% higher shoot:root ratio than other haplotypes in the high N treatment. A. philoxeroides haplotypes differed in 7 of 10 variables in response to increased N. We found no differences in short-term A. hygrophila development between haplotypes but mass was 23% greater in high than low N treatments. This study is the first to explore the interplay between nutrient availability, genetic variation, and phenotypic plasticity in invasive characteristics of the global invader, A. philoxeroides.
The southern US and northern Mexico serve as an ideal region to test alternative hypotheses regarding biotic diversification. Genomic data can now be combined with sophisticated computational models to quantify the impacts of paleoclimate change, geographic features, and habitat heterogeneity on spatial patterns of genetic diversity. In this study we combine thousands of genotyping-by-sequencing (GBS) loci with mtDNA sequences (ND1) from the Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum) to quantify relative support for different catalysts of diversification. Phylogenetic and clustering analyses of the GBS data indicate support for at least three primary populations with evidence of recent admixture. The spatial distribution of populations appears concordant with habitat type, with desert populations in Arizona and New Mexico showing the largest genetic divergence. The mtDNA data also support a divergent desert population, but other relationships differ and suggest mtDNA introgression. Genotype-environmental association analyses support divergence along environmental axes. Demographic analyses support a model of allopatric divergence during the Pleistocene followed by secondary contact and gene flow. These results are consistent with inferred paleo-species distribution models. Our results also indicate that caution is warranted when fitting a multispecies coalescent model without introgression to populations that have exchanged genes throughout their diversification history. In sum, our results support allopatric divergence due to Pleistocene climate change, which was followed by secondary contact and widespread genomic introgression. Results also suggest that populations are continuing to diverge along habitat gradients. Finally, the strong evidence of admixture, gene flow, and mtDNA introgression among populations suggests that P. cornutum should be considered a single widespread species.
Texas horned lizards (Phrynosoma cornutum) have a number of ways to avoid predation, including camouflage, sharp cranial horns, flattening of the body, and the ability to squirt blood from the eyes. These characteristics and their relatively low survival rates in the wild suggests these lizards are under high predation pressure. These lizards have been declining in much of their eastern range due to increased urbanization, agriculture, and loss of prey species. However, they can be still be found in some small south Texas towns where they can reach densities that are much higher (~50 lizards/ha) than in natural areas (~4-10 lizards/ha). We hypothesized that one reason for the high densities observed in these towns may be due to reduced predation pressure. We used model Texas horned lizards to test whether predation levels were lower in two south Texas towns than on a nearby ranch. We constructed models from urethane foam, a material that is ideal for preserving marks left behind by predators. Models (n = 126) and control pieces of foam (n = 21) were left in the field for 9 days in each location in early and late summer and subsequent predation marks were categorized by predator taxa. We observed significantly more predation attempts on the models than on controls and significantly fewer attempts in town (n = 1) compared to the ranch (n = 60). On the ranch, avian predation attempts appear to be common especially when the models did not match the color of the soil. Our results suggest that human modified environments that have suitable habitat and food resources may provide a refuge for some prey species like horned lizards from predators.