Creating a Niche
"Every species has a special job or place within an ecological community. That is its niche."
Choosing a General Site
First, the typical anole must decide the general site where he or she would like to set down roots. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of choice. Anoles live in the site where their ancestors lived.
Some anole lizards live in lowland areas of Puerto Rico. Others live in upland locations. The lowland species stay in the lowlands. They almost never travel into the higher areas of the forest. Most of the upland species, however, also live in suitable lowland areas. No one knows why this happens. There is an exception. One upland species — the A. gundlachi lizard — lives only in the uplands, never in lower elevations. We (the author of this article is an A. gundlachi anole) are mountain lizards. Period.
Choosing a Specific Site
Second, the anole must consider a more specific site in which he or she would like to live. He takes into consideration the amount of light and shade. Fussy anoles also consider a river view, coastal view, sierra palm root view, or proximity to in-laws.
Some anoles prefer open areas. Others need shade. Some like a combination of both. A. gundlachi likes shade and humidity. We don’t need to bask in the hot tropical sun. That’s not our style. Instead, we love dense mountain forests where the temperatures can be downright chilly at night. As far as we know, we are the only anoles that search out cool weather. Who knows, maybe we would even like snow! Anyhow, once A. gundlachi finds a nice place to live, we tend to stay there. We live out our entire lives in an area that is about 300 square meters — an area the size of a modest human living room. If there are a lot of other anoles in the area, we make do with less room.
Choosing a Highrise Level
Finally, the anole must decide at what level of the forest he or she would like to live. Does she want a sunny home on the top of the tallest trees? Does she opt for the easy accessibility of a mid-level perch? Does she choose the lush dank darkness of the forest floor? Once again, the choice is not really hers to make. Her species determines where she lives. Of course, she could choose to rebel.
Anoles are among the first “highrise” dwellers in the forest. We live at different levels, from the ground to the tops of trees. This greatly reduces forest sprawl and the dangerous food competition that goes with it. Scientists call this vertical stratification. We call it survival. Different anole species have different preferred perches. A perch is a safe and secure position from which we look out on our world and our food options. Some anoles like vines and narrow branches in sunny patches of forest. Others search out large branches at middle altitudes. Still others go for trunks close to the ground. Of course, there are always a few who are happy at any level.
A. gundlachi dwells in lower tree trunks and on the ground. We like the ground. In fact, we are by far the most common anole lizards you’ll find on the ground. We also like tree trunks up to about two meters. Only the adventurous climb higher that that. None climb above five meters. When it comes to the size of our perches, we don’t care. They can be most any size.