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Courtship Behaviour in Lacertid Lizards: Phylogenetic Interpretations of the Lacerta Kulzeri Complex (Reptilia: Lacertidae)

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image of Netherlands Journal of Zoology
For more content, see Archives Néerlandaises de Zoologie (Vol 1-17) and Animal Biology (Vol 53 and onwards).

We investigate whether at a low taxonomic level an analysis of courtship provides useful phylogenetic information in lacertids. This leads to an understanding of the evolutionary development of courtship behaviour. In a concise general description of lacertid courtship behaviour, four phases are distinguished : introduction, copulation, post-copulatory bite, and the period immediately after physical separation. The composing elements are described. Observations on courtship displays of seven closely related putative species of lacertid lizards, Lacerta cf. kulzeri, are summarised in 38 behavioural traits, resulting in a data matrix analysed by PAUP. One most parsimonious cladogram (MPC) with 61 steps (corrected Consistency Index = 0.62) is found. The study demonstrates that at a low taxonomic level (putative species) in lacertids, a behavioural analysis provides useful phylogenetic information, from which a reconstruetion of the evolutionary development of courtship behaviour results. In the L. cf. kulzeri complex, courtship seems to evolve towards a lengthening of the total duration. This trend is possibly correlated with an increased preference for a progressively more vegetated, horizontal microhabitat, after coming from a similar ancestral environment in lowland areas and going through an evolution in a more open, drier ecosystem of rocky outcrops at higher elevations. The character sets on the internal nodes of the cladogram do not seem to represent a coherent evolutionary pathway. These stages of evolutionary development appear to be interchangeable. Moreover, behavioural syndromes can hardly be recognised in this phylogenetic context. Our cladogram is strictly based on apomorphic similarities, and all relationships among taxa are based on recency of common ancestry. The only other diagram for this group available from the literature is based on overall morphological similarity. This dendrogram is considerably longer (69 steps) when the behavioural characters are mapped onto it. Parsimony mapping of behavioural characters on an as yet unpublished preliminary cladogram based on 12S rDNA data results in 65 steps. Consequently, we favour the behavioural cladogram.

Affiliations: 1: Leiden University, Institute of Evolutionary and Ecological Sciences, Section Behavioural Biology, P.O. Box 9516, NL-2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands; 2: Leiden University, Institute of Evolutionary and Ecological Sciences, Section Theoretical Biology & Phylogenetics, P.O. Box 9516, NL-2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands


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