Evolutionary loss of a signalling colour is linked to increased response to conspecific chemicals

Cristina Romero-Diaz, Jake A. Pruett, Stephanie M. Campos, Alison G. Ossip-Drahos, J. Jaime Zúñiga-Vega, Cuauhcihuatl Vital-García, Diana K. Hews, Emília P. Martins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Behavioural responses to communicative signals combine input from multiple sensory modalities and signal compensation theory predicts that evolutionary shifts in one sensory modality could impact the response to signals in other sensory modalities. Here, we conducted two types of field experiments with 11 species spread across the lizard genus Sceloporus to test the hypothesis that the loss of visual signal elements affects behavioural responses to a chemical signal (conspecific scents) or to a predominantly visual signal (a conspecific lizard), both of which are used in intraspecific communication. We found that three species that have independently lost a visual signal trait, a colourful belly patch, responded to conspecific scents with increased chemosensory behaviour compared to a chemical control, while species with the belly patch did not. However, most species, with and without the belly patch, responded to live conspecifics with increased visual displays of similar magnitude. While aggressive responses to visual stimuli are taxonomically widespread in Sceloporus, our results suggest that increased chemosensory response behaviour is linked to colour patch loss. Thus, interactions across sensory modalities could constrain the evolution of complex signalling phenotypes, thereby influencing signal diversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20210256
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1947
StatePublished - Mar 31 2021


  • Sceloporus lizards
  • chemical communication
  • comparative behaviour
  • multimodal compensation
  • visual communication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology


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