Evolutionary Interactions Between Visual and Chemical Signals: Chemosignals Compensate for the Loss of a Visual Signal in Male Sceloporus Lizards

J Chem Ecol. 2016 Nov;42(11):1164-1174. doi: 10.1007/s10886-016-0778-8. Epub 2016 Oct 8.


Animals rely on multimodal signals to obtain information from conspecifics through alternative sensory systems, and the evolutionary loss of a signal in one modality may lead to compensation through increased use of signals in an alternative modality. We investigated associations between chemical signaling and evolutionary loss of abdominal color patches in males of four species (two plain-bellied and two colorful-bellied) of Sceloporus lizards. We conducted field trials to compare behavioral responses of male lizards to swabs with femoral gland (FG) secretions from conspecific males and control swabs (clean paper). We also analyzed the volatile organic compound (VOC) composition of male FG secretions by stir bar extraction and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to test the hypothesis that loss of the visual signal is associated with elaboration of the chemical signal. Males of plain-bellied, but not colorful-bellied species exhibited different rates of visual displays when exposed to swabs of conspecific FG secretions relative to control swabs. The VOC composition of male Sceloporus FG secretions was similar across all four species, and no clear association between relative abundances of VOCs and evolutionary loss of abdominal color patches was observed. The emerging pattern is that behavioral responses to conspecific chemical signals are species- and context-specific in male Sceloporus, and compensatory changes in receivers, but not signalers may be involved in mediating increased responsiveness to chemical signals in males of plain-bellied species.

Keywords: Chemical signals; Femoral glands; Multimodal communication; Sceloporus; Stir bar extraction; Volatile organic compounds.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Female
  • Lizards / metabolism
  • Lizards / physiology*
  • Male
  • Movement / drug effects
  • Pigmentation
  • Visual Perception* / drug effects
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / metabolism
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / pharmacology


  • Volatile Organic Compounds