According to animal signalling theory, social costs incurred by aggressive conspecifics are one mechanism maintaining signal honesty. Although our understanding of signal evolution has much improved for pigment-based colours, the mechanisms maintaining the honesty of structural colour signals, such as ultraviolet (UV), remain elusive. In a recent study led by master student Anna Kawamoto and post-doctoral collaborator Arnaud Badiane, we used the common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) to test whether the honesty of UV-reflecting signals displayed on male throats is under social control. To do so, we staged agonistic interactions between non-manipulated focal males and opponents of either larger or smaller body size. We manipulated the UV component of the male throat colour patch to create small cheaters with UV-enhanced throats, large cheaters with UV-reduced throats, and their respective controls. In support of a conventional signal hypothesis, focal males were aggressive towards large cheaters and became submissive when these large cheaters retaliated, and were less submissive against small cheaters. However, that focal males were not more aggressive towards small cheaters contradicts our initial predictions. We confirm that male UV reflectance and bite force were good predictors of contest outcomes in control conditions. Overall, we provide partial evidence suggesting that social costs enforce UV signal honesty in common lizards.

Anna Kawamoto, Jean-François Le Galliard, Arnaud Badiane, The role of social costs as a mechanism enforcing the honesty of ultraviolet-reflecting signals in a lizard, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2021,