Intrasexual selection predicts the evolution of signal complexity in lizards

Proc Biol Sci. 2001 Apr 7;268(1468):737-44. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2000.1417.


Sexual selection has often been invoked in explaining extravagant morphological and behavioural adaptations that function to increase mating success. Much is known about the effects of intersexual selection, which operates through female mate choice, in shaping animal signals. The role of intrasexual selection has been less clear. We report on the first evidence for the coevolution of signal complexity and sexual size dimorphism (SSD), which is characteristically produced by high levels of male male competition. We used two complementary comparative methods in order to reveal that the use of complex signals is associated with SSD in extant species and that historical increases in complexity have occurred in regions of a phylogenetic tree characterized by high levels of pre-existing size dimorphism. We suggest that signal complexity has evolved in order to improve opponent assessment under conditions of high male male competition. Our findings suggest that intrasexual selection may play an important and previously underestimated role in the evolution of communicative systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Female
  • Lizards / physiology*
  • Male
  • Reproduction
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*