If you followed the barrage of blogposts we wrote from SICB 2014, you might recall some discussion of the information actually conveyed by anole displays and dewlaps (1, 2). The upshot of these studies is that anole displays are complex. We see unexpected relationships between various traits and the probability of success in male-male competition, and different traits correlate with different measures of male success. A recent study by Steffen and Guyer (2014) adds to our growing knowledge of the information conveyed by different dimensions of multimodal anole displays. When viewed together with previous research, this study presents us with an even messier picture than before of how Anolis lizards communicate with each other.
Steffen and Guyer (2014) set up paired competitions between size-matched male Anolis sagrei in a lab setting, implementing two treatments–males either compete for access to a single perch, or for mating access to a single female. All interactions were recorded, and display behaviours–headbobs, push-ups, dewlap extensions–were quantified. Further, the spectral reflectance of both the centre and the margin of the dewlap (which can be strikingly different in A. sagrei) was also measured. The question asked by the paper was straighforward: which display and dewlap traits are related to an individual lizard’s status as a winner or loser of competitions?
In both competitive contexts, only two traits seem to be important–a composite axis of behavioural variation, and one of three composite axes describing the colour of the margin of the dewlap. Lizards who headbob, push-up, and extend their dewlaps more during competitive interactions are more likely to win than lizards who display less. Curiously, lizards with lower UV reflectance of the dewlap margin are more likely to win than lizards with brightly UV-reflecting dewlap margins.
Of the two variables, display behaviour was more highly correlated with the probability of success than dewlap margin UV-reflectiveness. I’m curious about how the two variables are themselves related–do lizards that display more also have less bright dewlap margins? The authors propose that a dewlap’s reflectance might relate to its conspicuousness, and it would be interesting to know if different individuals are conspicuous in different ways.
Each of the studies conducted so far on how anoles convey information to each other has examined different dewlap and display variables, studied different competitive contexts, and used different measures of male quality. It therefore isn’t surprising that we seem far from reaching a consensus on what the dewlap says.