The role of male coloration in the outcome of staged contests in the European common wall lizard (Podarcis muralis)

in Behaviour
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Colour signals play a key role in regulating the intensity and outcome of animal contests. Males of the common wall lizard (Podarcis muralis) show conspicuous ventrolateral ultraviolet (UV)-blue and black patches. In addition, some populations express a striking ventral colour polymorphism (i.e., discrete orange, white and yellow morphs). In this study, we set out to evaluate the potential signalling function of these colour patches by staging pairwise combats between 60 size-matched adult lizards (20 per morph). Combats were held in a neutral arena, with each lizard facing rivals from the three morphs in a tournament with a balanced design. We then calculated a fighting ability ranking using the Bradley–Terry model, and used it to explore whether ventral colour morph, the size of UV-blue and black patches or the spectral characteristics of UV-blue patches (i.e., brightness, hue, chroma) are good predictors of fighting ability. We did not find an effect of the UV-blue patches on contest outcome, but the size of black patches emerged as a good predictor of fighting ability. We also found that winners were more aggressive when facing rivals with black patches of similar size, suggesting that black patches play a role in rival assessment and fighting rules. Finally, we found that orange males lost fights against heteromorphic males more often than yellow or white males. In light of these results, we discuss the potential signalling function of ventrolateral and ventral colour patches in mediating agonistic encounters in this species.

The role of male coloration in the outcome of staged contests in the European common wall lizard (Podarcis muralis)

in Behaviour



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    Left: male common wall lizard Podarcis muralis. This species has a relatively cryptic dorsum and conspicuous ventrolateral coloration. The ventrolateral area usually presents a complex pattern with black and UV-blue patches. Right: ventral view of both sexes to illustrate the colour polymorphism. Individuals from the three main morphs present orange, yellow or white ventral coloration. In our study population, the ventral colour is restricted to the throat in females, but extends to the belly in males. This figure is published in colour in the online edition of this journal, which can be accessed via

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    (a) Means of the relative blue area (ABlue) in the ventrolateral patches, for each morph. Error bars represent the standard error of the mean. (b) Representative pictures of the ventrolateral pattern in males of the three pure morphs. Blue coloration sometimes extends to the second row of ventral scales in orange males, while this is rare in white or yellow morph males. This figure is published in colour in the online edition of this journal, which can be accessed via

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    Within-morph means of fighting ability estimates obtained with the Bradley–Terry model. Error bars represent the standard error of the mean. This figure is published in colour in the online edition of this journal, which can be accessed via

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    Scatterplot showing the relationship between fighting ability and black relative area in the ventrolateral scales (ABlack) for each individual participating in the tournament.

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    3D plot exploring the relationship between aggression ratio and the interaction between the black relative area (ABlack) of both opponents.

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    Tournament network including all the 76 contests (out of 99 staged) in which a winner could be determined. Numbers inside circles denote individuals and the colour represents their morph (o, red; w, grey; y, yellow). Arrows connect opponents that were confronted, pointing toward the loser. The Bradley–Terry model calculates individual fighting ability estimates from nested tournament networks such as this one. This figure is published in colour in the online edition of this journal, which can be accessed via

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    Scatterplot showing the relationship between mean aggression score (AS) and fighting ability for each individual participating in the tournament.

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    Box plots showing the values of BCI and SVL separated by colour morph.

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