POPULATION ESTIMATE, NATURAL HISTORY AND CONSERVATION OF THE MELANISTIC IGUANA IGUANA POPULATION ON SABA, CARIBBEAN NETHERLANDS
Abstract.– Intraspecific diversity is among the most important biological variables, although still poorly understood for most species. Iguana iguana is a Neotropical lizard known from Central and South America, including from numerous Caribbean islands. Despite the presence of native melanistic I. iguana populations in the Lesser Antilles, these have received surprisingly little research attention. Here we assessed population size, distribution, degree of melanism, and additional morphological and natural history characteristics for the melanistic iguanas of Saba, Caribbean Netherlands based on a one-month fieldwork visit. Using Distance sampling from a 38- transect dataset we estimate the population size at 8233 ±2205 iguanas. Iguanas mainly occurred on the southern and eastern sides of the island, between 180-390 m (max altitude 530 m), with highest densities both in residential and certain natural areas. Historically, iguanas were relatively more common at higher altitudes, probably due to more extensive forest clearing for agricultural reasons. No relationship was found between the degree of melanism and elevation, and few animals were completely melanistic. Furthermore, we found that body-ratio data collection through photographs is biased and requires physical measuring instead. Although the population size appears larger than previously surmised, the limited nesting sites and extremely low presence of juvenile and hatchling iguanas (2.4%), is similarly worrying as the situation for I. delicatissima on neighboring St. Eustatius. The island’s feral cat and large goat population are suspected to impact nest site quality, nest success, and hatchling survival. These aspects require urgent future research to guide necessary conservation management.