The adaptive significance of colour pattern polymorphism in the Australian scincid lizard Lampropholis delicata

Anders Forsman*, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Citations (Scopus)


Females of Lampropholis delicata are dimorphic for colour pattern, the difference betweenmorphs being the presence or absence of a distinct white mid-lateral stripe. A less distinct striped morph occurs also in males. We evaluated alternative hypotheses for the maintenance of this polymorphism by examining temporal and spatial variation in morph frequency, testing for differential selection among morphs using data on body size and reproductive traits from preserved specimens, and experimentally manipulating colour pattern in free-ranging lizards of both sexes, to assess the influence of the lateral stripe on survival rates. We found that the relative frequency of striped individuals varied among populations and decreased from north to south in both sexes, coincident with an increasing incidence of regenerated tails. Morph frequencies did not change through time within a population. Striped gravid females appeared to survive better and produced larger clutches than did non-striped females. In our experimental study, the relationship between survival and colour morph differed between the two sexes; males painted with a white lateral stripe had lower survival than control (brown stripe) males, but survival did not differ between striped and control females. The different response in the two sexes may be due partly to differences in temperature and microhabitat selection. We propose that the white lateral stripe decreases susceptibility to predators in gravid females but increases risk of predation in males, especially in combination with low temperatures. The polymorphism might be maintained by: (l) opposing fitness consequences of the stripe in males and females; (2) sex-specific habitat selection; and (3) gene (low in combination with spatial variation in relative fitness of the two morphs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-291
Number of pages19
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • Colour
  • crypsis
  • polymorphism
  • predation
  • reproduction
  • selection
  • temperature


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