Proximate mechanisms of colour variation in the frillneck lizard: geographical differences in pigment contents of an ornament

Thomas Merkling*, David G. Hamilton, Borbala Cser, Nina Svedin, Sarah R. Pryke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Animal coloration has evolved in contexts such as communication, camouflage, and thermoregulation. Most studies of animal coloration focus on its adaptive benefits, whereas its underlying mechanisms have received less attention despite their potential influence on adaptive benefits. In fish and reptiles, for example, colour variation from yellow to red can be produced by carotenoid and/or pteridine pigments, which differ dramatically in the way they are obtained (carotenoids through diet and pteridines synthesized de novo). Hence, potential adaptive benefits could differ greatly depending on the relative contribution to coloration of different pigments. In the present study, we investigate the mechanisms underlying colour variation in the frill of the Australian frillneck lizard (Sauropsida: Chlamydosaurus kingii). Frill colour varies between populations across the species' range (red, orange, yellow or white). We argue that this geographical variation results from different concentrations of carotenoids and pteridines in the frill. Frill carotenoid concentrations were lower in eastern populations (yellow and white forms), and pteridines were present only in the red and orange forms, thereby explaining their redder hues. The observed geographical variation in frill carotenoids suggests variation in carotenoid availability across the species' range, which is backed up by the finding that plasma carotenoid concentrations were higher in the red (western) compared to the yellow (eastern) form. Although no correlations were found between individual colour measurements, frill pigments and plasma carotenoids, our results suggest that selective pressures vary across the species' range and we speculate that predation pressures and/or intrasexual signalling context differ between forms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)503-515
Number of pages13
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • carotenoids
  • gradient
  • honest signalling
  • productionproximate mechanism
  • pteridines


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