Investment in chemical signalling glands facilitates the evolution of sociality in lizards

Simon Baeckens*, Martin J. Whiting

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)
    2 Downloads (Pure)


    The evolution of sociality and traits that correlate with, or predict, sociality, have been the focus of considerable recent study. In order to reduce the social conflict that ultimately comes with group living, and foster social tolerance, individuals need reliable information about group members and potential rivals. Chemical signals are one such source of information and are widely used in many animal taxa, including lizards. Here, we take a phylogenetic comparative approach to test the hypothesis that social grouping correlates with investment in chemical signalling. We used the presence of epidermal glands as a proxy of chemical investment and considered social grouping as the occurrence of social groups containing both adults and juveniles. Based on a dataset of 911 lizard species, our models strongly supported correlated evolution between social grouping and chemical signalling glands. The rate of transition towards social grouping from a background of 'epidermal glands present' was an order of a magnitude higher than from a background of 'no epidermal glands'. Our results highlight the potential importance of chemical signalling during the evolution of sociality and the need for more focused studies on the role of chemical communication in facilitating information transfer about individual and group identity, and ameliorating social conflict.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number20202438
    Pages (from-to)1-8
    Number of pages8
    JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
    Issue number1945
    Publication statusPublished - 24 Feb 2021

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2021. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • animal signals
    • lizard communication
    • epidermal gland secretions
    • squamates
    • social evolution


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