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Chris Raxworthy: Searching for Reptiles on Indian Ocean Islands

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In January 2013, Museum Curator Christopher Raxworthy set out on a Constantine S. Niarchos Expedition to several island groups in the Indian Ocean, hundreds of miles off of Africa’s eastern coast, to survey reptile species.

Dr. Raxworthy and his team traveled to the Seychelles and the Mascarene Islands, where they scoured lush canyons, rocky shores, and steep cliff sides in search of chameleons, geckos, and skinks.

At one time, these islands were home to the world’s richest diversity of oceanic island reptile fauna. But with the arrival of humans several centuries ago, deforestation and other environmental degradation decimated reptile populations. Raxworthy hoped to rediscover lizards known only from bone material and specimens collected in the 19th and early 20th century.

While the team found no evidence of those particular species, their survey of both island systems provided valuable data about the distribution of other endemic and introduced reptiles.  The information Raxworthy collected is helping researchers learn more about what happens in an ecosystem after extinction, how reptile communities are built, and the best ways to implement future conservation efforts.

Christopher Raxworthy’s Constantine S. Niarchos Expedition was generously supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. 

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