“Imagine Charles Darwin aboard the Beagle, sailing the seas across to the Galapagos and writing in his note books about finch beak forms across the different islands.
“Now imagine pockets of parkland scattered across a city, separated by oceans of malls and high rises, troughs of highways and roads.
“The dragons of Brisbane live on islands — just like Darwin’s finches did.
“And, on those islands they’re in completely human-made ecosystems with leaf blowers, fertile garden beds and human-derived food, pesticides and mowers.
“And they’re in an environment with a completely different make up of plants, prey and predators than they’ve ever had to deal with in the natural arena.
“It is a pressure cooker for evolution.
“I call it the archipelagos of the Anthropocene — this idea that city parks within cities are acting as islands. And potentially we are observing evolutionary processes that Darwin witnessed throughout his voyage,” Dr Frere says.
“In fact, the populations in Brisbane city are extremely genetically different from one another. So much so, that it is to the extent of different human cultural backgrounds.
“For us, the first step to speciation is genetic differentiation. I can’t tell you it will lead to a speciation event. But I think we need to be on the lookout because we’re witnessing evolution as it’s occurring.
“They are almost moving from being an arboreal species to a land-based species.
“Dr Frere is studying the isolated dragon populations in Roma Street Parklands, City Botanic Gardens, South Bank and Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens in Brisbane.
“The dragons’ genetic differentiation within each site is manifested in physical characteristics — referred to as morphology.
“In Brisbane city, you have unique equal morphology, so that at every single park the dragons are slightly different morphologically from one another.”
“The Roma Street dragons are smaller, but have really big heads. The City Botanical Garden dragons are immense compared to eastern water dragons in the wild, but have smaller heads and shorter limbs.
“They are starting to move away from being water dragons, and starting to be something else.”
Text: These water dragons are ‘evolving at a pace we can witness, ABC News.
Pic: Journey to the Centre of the Earth, 1959.