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Melanin-based colouration as a potential indicator of male quality in the lizard Zootoca vivipara (Squamata: Lacertidae)

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In many animals, aspects of colouration are hypothesized to convey information on the body condition or quality of individuals. This idea has been tested primarily for the carotenoid-based component of body colouration. The significance of other pigments in this context has received far less attention. In the common lizard, Zootoca vivipara, the degree of black patterning on the ventrum and throats is sexually dimorphic and varies considerably among individuals. In this study, we examine whether this melanin-based component of body colouration may reflect individual differences in quality (SVL, condition, immune response). We find that males (but not females) with a higher degree of ventral patterning mount a stronger phytohemagglutinin-induced immune response. The amount of black patterning does not correlate with body size, body condition, aspects of dorsal colouration or parasite load. We conclude that in male Zootoca vivipara, melanin-based ventral colouration may signal an aspect of immune capacity to sexual rivals or potential partners.

Affiliations: 1: 1Functional Morphology, Department of Biology, University of Antwerp, Universiteitsplein 1, BE-2610 Wilrijk, Belgium; 2: 2Institute of Biology, Department of Integrative Zoology, University of Leiden, Sylviusweg 72, 2333 BE Leiden, The Netherlands

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