Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Ecol. Evol., 27 February 2014 |

Female ornamentation influences male courtship investment in a lizard

  • Zoology Department, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC, Australia

Female signals of reproductive status often comprise both distinctive color patches and behaviors but their relative influence on male courtship investment is unclear. We examined the role of female-specific coloration in signaling reproductive condition and quality to males in the Lake Eyre dragon lizard, Ctenophorus maculosus. Females of this species develop intense orange ventral coloration when sexually receptive, which fades to white only after laying. To separate the effect of color and behavior, we manipulated the presence of female orange ventral coloration within different periods of the reproductive cycle in which females display qualitatively different behaviors. In a separate manipulation, we tested whether the presence of an ultraviolet (UV) component, size and intensity of female orange patches influenced male courtship investment. Males tended to chase, bite, and copulate more with orange than white females, irrespective of reproductive state. However, males copulated much more frequently with receptive females than non-receptive or gravid females, consistent with females' behavioral acceptance of copulations during this stage. Males courted females with small orange patches the most, and had an overall preference for intense color patches (as opposed to pale orange patches), regardless of the presence of UV. Our results suggest that female orange coloration signals reproductive condition, specifically receptivity, and that small, intensely orange patches signal that females are more likely to be receptive. Female ornamentation therefore encodes information used by males to make decisions regarding courtship investment.

Keywords: female-specific coloration, color, signaling, female resistance, male courtship, harassment, sexual conflict

Citation: Stuart-Fox D and Goode JL (2014) Female ornamentation influences male courtship investment in a lizard. Front. Ecol. Evol. 2:2. doi: 10.3389/fevo.2014.00002

Received: 01 December 2013; Accepted: 27 January 2014;
Published online: 27 February 2014.

Edited by:

Wayne I. L. Davies, The University of Western Australia, Australia

Reviewed by:

Jan M. Hemmi, The University of Western Australia, Australia
Jennifer Kelley, The University of Western Australia, Australia
Cristiano Bertolucci, University of Ferrara, Italy

Copyright © 2014 Stuart-Fox and Goode. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Devi Stuart-Fox, Zoology Department, The University of Melbourne, Building 147, Royal Parade, Parkville, VIC 3010, Australia e-mail: