Evolutionary ecology on islands
I am fascinated by islands, their fauna, and the evolutionary and ecological implications of living in isolation. So much information exist already, but the picture in many aspects looks more and more complicated the more additional data is considered. In my Ph.D. research I studied the eco-evolutionary implications of insularity by comparing several traits across multiple insular populations of reptile species, focusing mainly on the gecko Mediodactylus kotschyi (and its sister species M. oertzeni, M. orientalis, M. danilewskii, and M. bartoni, which we identified as distinct only after I finished my Ph.D., see Kotsakiozi et al. 2018) and the lacertid Podarcis erhardii. However, while surveying for these two species across the Aegean archipelago, we naturally encountered (and captured) multiple other reptile species, and collected data on them as well. This was a great team effort (I shared the joy with key collaborators Rachel Schwarz and Alex Slavenko from Shai Meiri’s lab, and of course with Shai and Panayiotis, my advisors), which led so far to 15 publications (see e.g., about body size, defense mechanisms, and life history) and some successful ongoing collaborations (e.g., with Johannes Foufopoulos, Colin Donihue, Petros Lymberakis, Stephanos A. Roussos). We still have a lot of material to analyze, so stay tuned).
Biogeography of islands and island-like systems
As I was hopping from island to island, I started pondering over some wide-spread conceptual perceptions in the field of island biology. One of them was how I should define island isolation, which is a very central factor to consider in the eco-evolutionary setting I was studying. I was also wondering if using different isolation indices could result in different biological conclusions. The short answer was “yes”. The long answer is here: Itescu et al. 2020.
Starting my postdoc, I dedicated much thought to all those isolated habitat types that are often regarded as islands in biological studies (e.g., mountain tops, lakes, caves, cities, etc.). As I read more and more about it, I felt increasingly uncomfortable with this issue. Island-like systems are an extremely diverse group of habitat types, with great differences in their defining characteristics among themselves and compared to true islands. Furthermore, studies that test hypotheses from the field of island biology in island-like systems are surprisingly scarce. I think there is a lot of room for investigations in this context and I synthesized a framework for studying isolated ecosystems in the context of island biology. I shared my thoughts on how to go about it in this paper: Itescu 2019.
Diversity and distribution of Mediterranean reptiles
One of the things that I like most about my work is the opportunity to spot species in places where no one knew they were present. Luckily for me, my time in the Aegean islands offered me multiple such observations (e.g., here and here). It also tempted me and my lab mates to take a reptile survey on the few islands off-shore Israel, which were never before surveyed (and we actually found several lizard species!)
Looking for unknown species on islands – can’t get more naturalist-stereotype than that.