Using visual modelling to study the evolution of lizard coloration: sexual selection drives the evolution of sexual dichromatism in lacertids.

Research paper by G G Pérez I de Lanuza, E E Font, J L JL Monterde

Indexed on: 16 Jul '13Published on: 16 Jul '13Published in: Journal of Evolutionary Biology


Sexual selection has been invoked as a major force in the evolution of secondary sexual traits, including sexually dimorphic colourations. For example, previous studies have shown that display complexity and elaborate ornamentation in lizards are associated with variables that reflect the intensity of intrasexual selection. However, these studies have relied on techniques of colour analysis based on human--rather than lizard--visual perception. Here, we use reflectance spectrophotometry and visual modelling to quantify sexual dichromatism considering the overall colour patterns of lacertids, a lizard clade in which visual signalling has traditionally been underrated. These objective methods of colour analysis reveal a large, previously unreported, degree of sexual dichromatism in lacertids. Using a comparative phylogenetic approach, we further demonstrate that sexual dichromatism is positively associated with body size dimorphism (an index of intrasexual selection), suggesting that conspicuous coloration in male lacertids has evolved to improve opponent assessment under conditions of intense male-male competition. Our findings provide the first evidence for the covariation of sexual dichromatism and sexual size dimorphism in lacertids and suggest that the prevalent role of intrasexual selection in the evolution of ornamental coloration is not restricted to the iguanian lineage, but rather may be a general trend common to many diurnal lizards.