Evolution of Anolis lizard dewlap diversity

Kirsten E. Nicholson, Luke J. Harmon, Jonathan B. Losos

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112 Scopus citations


Background. The dewlaps of Anolis lizards provide a classic example of a complex signaling system whose function and evolution is poorly understood. Dewlaps are flaps of skin beneath the chin that are extended and combined with head and body movements for visual signals and displays. They exhibit extensive morphological variation and are one of two cladistic features uniting anoles, yet little is known regarding their function and evolution. We quantified the diversity of anole dewlaps, investigated whether dewlap morphology was informative regarding phylogenetic relationships, and tested two separate hypotheses: (A) similar Anolis habitat specialists possess similar dewlap configurations (Ecomorph Convergence hypothesis), and (B) sympatric species differ in their dewlap morphologies to a greater extent than expected by chance (Species Recognition hypothesis). Methodology/Principal Findings. We found that dewlap configurations (sizes, patterns and colors) exhibit substantial diversity, but that most are easily categorized into six patterns that incorporate one to three of 13 recognizable colors. Dewlap morphology is not phylogenetically informative and, like other features of anoles, exhibits convergence in configurations. We found no support for the Ecomorph Convergence hypothesis; species using the same structural habitat were no more similar in dewlap configuration than expected by chance. With one exception, all sympatric species in four communities differ in dewlap configuration. However, this provides only weak support for the Species Recognition hypothesis because, due to the great diversity in dewlap configurations observed across each island, few cases of sympatric species with identical dewlaps would be expected to co-occur by chance alone. Conclusions/Significance. Despite previous thought, most dewlaps exhibit easily characterizable patterns and colorations. Nevertheless, dewlap variation is extensive and explanations for the origin and evolution of this diversity are lacking. Our data do not support two hypothesized explanations for this diversity, but others such as sexual selection remain to be tested.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere274
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 7 2007


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