Anatomical and physiological changes associated with a recent dietary shift in the Lizard **Podarcis sicula**
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Physiological and biochemical zoology. - Chicago, Ill.
, p. 632-642
University of Antwerp
Dietary shifts have played a major role in the evolution of many vertebrates. The idea that the evolution of herbivory is physiologically constrained in squamates is challenged by a number of observations that suggest that at least some lizards can overcome the putative physiological difficulties of herbivory on evolutionary and even ecological timescales. We compared a number of morphological and physiological traits purportedly associated with plant consumption between two island populations of the lacertid lizard Podarcis sicula. Previous studies revealed considerable differences in the amount of plant material consumed between those populations. We continued the investigation of this study system and explored the degree of divergence in morphology (dentition, gut morphology), digestive performance (gut passage time, digestive efficiency), and ecology (endosymbiont density). In addition, we also performed a preliminary analysis of the plasticity of some of these modifications. Our results confirm and expand earlier findings concerning divergence in the morphology of feeding structures between two island populations of P. sicula lizards. In addition to the differences in skull dimensions and the prevalence of cecal valves previously reported, these two recently diverged populations also differ in aspects of their dentition (teeth width) and the lengths of the stomach and small intestine. The plasticity experiment suggests that at least some of the changes associated with a dietary shift toward a higher proportion of plant material may be plastic. Our results also show that these morphological changes effectively translate into differences in digestive performance: the population with the longer digestive tract exhibits longer gut passage time and improved digestive efficiency.