Immune Challenge Affects Sexual Coloration of Male Iberian Wall Lizards

J Exp Zool A Ecol Genet Physiol. 2009 Feb 1;311(2):96-104. doi: 10.1002/jez.505.


Sexual signals can be evolutionarily stable if they are honest and condition dependent or costly to the signaler. One possible cost is the existence of a trade-off between maintaining the immune system and the elaboration of ornaments. We experimentally challenged the immune system of male Iberian wall lizards, Podarcis hispanica, with a bacterial antigen (lipopolysaccharide) without pathogenic effects to explore whether the immune activation affected sexually dimorphic visual ornaments. Ventrolateral coloration changed in all males, but immune activation affected some characteristics of coloration of experimental males (i.e., challenged males failed to increase brightness and medium wavelengths over time as control males did, and the proportion of yellow pigments decreased after the immune activation) but not others (i.e., proportion of blue, green and red pigments changed equally in all males). Results suggested the existence of a trade-off between physiological regulation of the immune system and the allocation of essential compounds (probably carotenoids) to sexual ornaments. We suggest that this trade-off may allow one to honestly signal individual male quality via characteristics of coloration in lizards, which may have an important role in both intra- and intersexual selection processes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Linear Models
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Lizards / immunology*
  • Lizards / physiology*
  • Male
  • Pigmentation*
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology


  • Lipopolysaccharides