Many exaggerated phenotypic traits, such as the large and colorful dewlaps of male anoles, increase fitness of individuals who possess them. But these traits are often energetically costly. Too high an investment in showy or extreme traits can come at the cost of an individual’s health and performance. Such traits are therefore said to be condition-dependent; that is, individuals will not develop them unless they are already in a healthy condition.
John David Curlis and colleagues explored several potential condition-dependent traits in two closely related Central American Anolis species, A. limifrons and A. humilis. He quantified a number of sexually and naturally selected traits and tested whether they varied by body condition to see whether any of them were condition dependent, and whether the degree of condition dependence varied between two closely related species. None of the traits he tested were condition dependent in A. limifrons, but two traits – jaw width and dewlap size – were condition dependent in A. humilis. He therefore concluded that the degree of condition dependence of these traits is evolutionarily labile. In addition, A. humilis dewlaps are generally larger than A. limifrons, which suggests that condition dependence may be a more important force affecting traits that are subjected to stronger sexual selection. Taken together, these results suggest that condition-dependence of sexually-selected traits may be playing a role in dewlap diversity (and perhaps other phenotypic traits) throughout Anolis lizards.