I-P Chen, D Stuart-Fox, AF Hugall, MRE Symonds (2012) Sexual selection and the evolution of complex color patterns in dragon lizards, Evolution 66: 3605-3614 PDF

What’s it about?

We show that the complexity of colour patterns (not just the colours themselves) are likely to be a sexually selected characteristic in dragon lizards. We developed a novel way of quantifying colour pattern complexity (based on the idea of diversity indices in community ecology), and showed that species where males have more complex patterns also tend to have greater sexual dimorphism, suggest a sexually selected linked trait.

What’s the story behind it?

I-Ping was Devi Stuart-Fox and my Masters student. Overcoming enormous obstacles in coming from Taiwan and then having to work 8-hour days chronically underpaid at a Japanese restaurant in the Melbourne CBD, she still managed to produce an awesome thesis that yielded two excellent papers. My contribution to this paper was in developing the method for quantifying colour pattern complexity. We had all this data on presence of colours and patterns on different body parts – and I realised that simply counting number of different colours and patterns wasn’t going to cut it. The insight I had was that the problem was equivalent to using species richness as a measure of diversity – just counting number of species isn’t a good idea. Once I realised that, then the idea of Shannon diversity indices occured to me, and that they could be used here.

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