The Macroecology of Chemical Communication in Lizards: Do Climatic Factors Drive the Evolution of Signalling Glands?
Harvey, Lilly P.
Hickcox, Rachel P.
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Chemical communication plays a pivotal role in shaping sexual and ecological interactions among animals. In lizards, fundamental mechanisms of sexual selection such as female mate choice have rarely been shown to be influenced by quantitative phenotypic traits (e.g., ornaments), while chemical signals have been found to potentially influence multiple forms of sexual and social interactions, including mate choice and territoriality. Chemical signals in lizards are secreted by glands primarily located on the edge of the cloacae (precloacal glands, PG) and thighs (femoral glands), and whose interspecific and interclade number ranges from 0 to > 100. However, elucidating the factors underlying the evolution of such remarkable variation remains an elusive endeavour. Competing hypotheses suggest a dominant role for phylogenetic conservatism (i.e., species within clades share similar numbers of glands) or for natural selection (i.e., their adaptive diversification results in deviating numbers of glands from ancestors). Using the prolific Liolaemus lizard radiation from South America (where PG vary from 0 to 14), we present one of the largest-scale tests of both hypotheses to date. Based on climatic and phylogenetic modelling, we show a clear role for both phylogenetic inertia and adaptation underlying gland variation: (i) solar radiation, net primary productivity, topographic heterogeneity and precipitation range have a significant effect on PG variation, (ii) humid and cold environments tend to concentrate species with a higher number of glands, (iii) there is a strong phylogenetic signal that tends to conserve the number of PG within clades. Collectively, our study confirms that the inertia of niche conservatism can be broken down by the need of species facing different selection regimes to adjust their glands to suit the demands of their specific environments.