This summer was a bit of a whirlwind between fieldwork and teaching a course, so I am just now getting a chance to catch up and do a quick post about all the happenings. As per usual, Bob Thomson, Greg Pauly, and I started out the field season with a trip to the Mojave Desert in mid-May. There, we were primarily filling out some sampling gaps for our landscape genomics of Mojave lizards project that we’ve slowly been pushing forward over the past couple years. After flying in to Los Angeles, to meet up with Greg, we drove north and started our fieldwork in Panamint Valley. It was neat to spend some time in the northern Mojave (despite the tranquility of our field surveys being interrupted by fighter plane training exercises occurring above us due to the nearby naval station). Next we worked our way south to a new site near Fremont Peak (an OHV recreation area near Kramer Junction, CA). For our last site, we drove east to Nevada and sampled a site just east of Valley of Fire State park (which we drove through and checked out all the cool rock formations!). We finished the trip with another weekend in the Kingston Mountains to look for Gila Monsters, but again didn’t get lucky. However, it was a great year for lizards more generally!
The summer took an exciting turn when I was at the SSB meetings in Columbus Ohio. I was invited to give a talk there at a workshop focused around posterior predictive simulation due to some of my recent work. It was also cool to spend a couple days beforehand hanging out with some of the folks in the Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology. While I was there, we heard that our collaborative research project studying the evolution of whiptail lizards was recommended for funding by NSF! This is a project I’ve been collaborating on over the past couple years with Bob, Adrián Nieto, and Norma Manriquez-Morán (professors in Mexico). Adrián and I collected some preliminary RADseq data a couple years back during his sabbatical, which we used to write a grant, which got funded!
Bob and I had already planned some fieldwork in southern Mexico during June in support of the project, so it turned out to be more celebratory than expected. We flew into Mexico City to meet up with Adrián and his student Daniel Lara-Tufiño, and drove south to spend some time working in Oaxaca. We started off in the northern part of the state near a small, quiet town called Santo Domingo Yanhuitlán. Part if our motivation to start here was that Bill Duellman and Richard Zweifel had described the whiptails in this area as being challenging to identify back in the 1960’s, and we suspect they represent a new species based on our genomic data. Here’s a picture of the beautiful valley we worked in for a few days. Note the interesting badland type features that this species appears to be associated with. It was fun to contemplate a life on a small rancho out here.
Our next stop on the road east was near Huajuapan de Leon. There are some incredible and stark habitat transitions in this area between desert scrub, tropical dry forest, and pine-oak forest. Below is a picture of one of our field sites.
Here we caught a couple different species of whiptails, including one of the giant species, Aspidoscelis sackii. These guys can grow to >150 mm snout-vent in length.
Next we started our drive south towards the coast, crossing the majestic Sierra Madre del Sur, and then dropping down in elevation where things get really hot and humid. The coast of Oaxaca is beautiful, and sparsely populated in many areas, which makes it really fun to herp. Here, we primarily find two species of whiptails that are nearly ubiquitous: the large A. guttatus and smaller A. deppii. Note the beautiful coloration of the male A. deppii.
Our return trip was through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and then back to Mexico City. We covered a lot of ground, seeing some really neat habitats that were new to me, and caught a lot of awesome lizards. So excited to be able to continue this work over the next couple years!