Tavis S Weekes

An integrative approach to assess non-native iguana presence on Saba and Montserrat: are we losing all native Iguana populations in the Lesser Antilles?


Invasive alien species are among the main drivers of the ongoing sixth mass extinction wave, especially affecting island populations. Although the Caribbean is well-known for its high species richness and endemism, also for reptiles, equally important is the regional contribution of non-native species to island biodiversity. The Lesser Antilles encompass high genetic diversity in Iguana, though most native populations either have gone extinct or are declining following competitive hybridization with invasive non-native iguanas. Here we assessed non-native presence in two poorly-studied native melanistic Iguana iguana populations using available genetic tools, and explored utilizing size-dependent body measurements to discriminate between native and non-native iguanas. Genetic samples from Saba and Montserrat were genotyped across 17 microsatellite loci with STRUCTURE and multivariate analyses indicating non-native iguanas presence only on Saba. This was corroborated by mtDNA and nDNA sequences, highlighting a non-native origin in Central America and the ABC islands. We identied preliminary evidence suggestive of hybridization. Morphological variation among size-dependent characteristics showed that non-native iguanas have signicantly larger subtympanic plates than native iguanas. Non-native individuals also differed in scalation and coloration patterns. Overall, our ndings demonstrate the need for continuous monitoring for non-native iguanas within remaining native Iguana populations in the Lesser Antilles, with those not directly threatened by non-native iguanas restricted to only 8.7% of the historic range. Although genetic data allows for identication of non-native or hybrid iguana presence, this eld-to-lab workow is time consuming. Rapid in-situ identication of non-native individuals is crucial for conservation management, and besides scale and coloration patterns, we have highlighted the utility of size-dependent variables for rapid diagnosis. We urge regional partners to build morphometric databases for native Iguana populations that will help to quickly detect future incursions of non-native iguanas and allow the rapid implementation of effective countermeasures during the early phase of invasion.

Data type
Scientific article
Research and monitoring
Geographic location