Rapid and repeated divergence of animal chemical signals in an island introduction experiment

Colin M. Donihue*, Anthony Herrel, José Martín, Johannes Foufopoulos, Panayiotis Pafilis, Simon Baeckens

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    10 Citations (Scopus)


    Studies of animal communication have documented myriad rapid, context-dependent changes in visual and acoustic signal design. In contrast, relatively little is known about the capacity of vertebrate chemical signals to rapidly respond, either plastically or deterministically, to changes in context. 

    Four years following an experimental introduction of lizards to replicate experimental islets, we aimed to determine if chemical signal design of the experimental populations differed from that of the source population. 

    In 2014, we translocated Podarcis erhardii lizards from a large, predator-rich island to each of five replicate predator-free islets. Mean population densities increased fivefold over the following 4 years and bite scars suggest significantly more intraspecific fighting among these experimental populations. In 2018, we analysed the chemical signal design of males in each of the experimental populations and compared it to the chemical signals of the source population. 

    We found that males consistently presented a significantly more complex chemical signal compared to the source population. Moreover, their chemical signals were marked by high proportions of octadecanoic acid, oleic acid and α-tocopherol, the three compounds that are known to be associated with lizard territoriality and mate choice. 

    Our island introduction experiment thus suggests that the chemical signal design of animals can shift rapidly and predictably in novel ecological contexts.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1458-1467
    Number of pages10
    JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


    • chemical signal design
    • experimental evolution
    • Lacertidae
    • phenotypic plasticity


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