Over at Anole Annals, Travis Ingram has written a really nice summary of my new paper with Jonathan Losos on ecological specialization among individuals within a population and among species within a community of Anolis lizards. I don’t want to add anything here about the science–for that, you can read Travis’ post or the paper itself (email me if you’d like a copy). But I do want to tell you a bit about how this study came into existence.
A majority of the data in this paper was collected for an entirely different purpose, namely tracing the movement patterns of individual lizards to test whether they depart from territoriality or not (further details on that project can be found here). To this end, we collected repeated observations of individuals’ locations, but like all good anole biologists, we also measured perch height and diameter at each observation, just because.
2014 was my trial field season for this project, and because I wasn’t yet convinced the project would pan out, we spread our efforts across multiple sites and ideas. About a month in, I realised I’d need to focus intensively on one site to get the requisite data, necessitating a 2015 field season for my main thesis project. At about the same time, postdoc Oriol Lapiedra came down to Gainesville to get his first taste of anole field work, and one evening over dinner, we were talking about whether anything could be salvaged from my 2014 data. Oriol realised that I had inadvertently collected the data to measure individual specialization in habitat use in a species of Anolis, a genus famed for habitat use specialization at higher levels of biological organization. So for the rest of the summer, my field assistants and I scrambled to measure limb and toepad morphology as well as the perches available to each individual, so we could ask if either morphology or habitat explained which perches individuals used.
The moral of this story is, I guess, to be okay with re-evaluating your plans at any point in the field season, and to talk early and often during fieldwork to your colleagues–their outside perspective may recast your seemingly worthless data into an unanticipated paper!