It ain’t easy being orange: lizard colour morphs occupying highly vegetated microhabitats suffer greater ectoparasitism

In: Amphibia-Reptilia
Graham T. BeVier , 4554 Paper Birch Ln, Traverse City, MI 49686, USA

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Cole Ayton Department of Life and Environmental Science, School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced, CA 95343, USA

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Kinsey M. Brock Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, College of Natural Resources, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA

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Intraspecific colour morphs usually differ in more traits than just colour. These traits can manifest as differences in morph physiology, behaviour, and ecology. Ecological differences among colour morphs, such as the degree of parasitism, can influence the evolution, maintenance, and loss of morphs from populations. High ectoparasite load can directly and deleteriously impact host fitness, and thus could influence colour morph persistence in populations if certain morphs are more frequently exposed to parasites or are more susceptible to parasitism. The Aegean wall lizard, Podarcis erhardii, is a colour polymorphic island lizard that is parasitized externally by ticks and mites. These ectoparasites can affect aspects of host lizard behaviour and physiology – including thermoregulation and body mass – and therefore are an important factor influencing the ecology and fitness of P. erhardii. We find that among sympatric colour morphs, ectoparasite loads differ; namely, monochromatic orange morphs have the highest numbers of ectoparasites, and in general, morphs with orange alleles (orange, orange-white, and orange-yellow) are more heavily parasitized by ticks and mites than the other morphs. Our results indicate that morphs with orange alleles tend to occupy microhabitats with significantly more vegetation cover and thus may increase their exposure to ticks and mites. Ecological differences between morphs could be an important factor contributing to demonstrated patterns of orange morph rarity and loss in P. erhardii populations.

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