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Nuptial Coloration and Mate Guarding Affect Escape Decisions of Male Lizards Psammodromus algirus


Corresponding author: J. Martín, Departamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSIC, José Gutiérrez Abascal 2, E-28006 Madrid, Spain. E-mail:


Males of many species show conspicuous breeding colours that are important for status signalling, but that may decrease crypsis and increase predation risk. However, prey may adjust their escape response, such that the optimal distance at which an animal starts to flee (approach distance) would be the point where the costs of staying exceed the cost of fleeing. We examined in the field the escape response of Psammodromus algirus lizards, to test the hypothesis that more conspicuous old males, showing orange nuptial coloration on most of the head, which presumably have a higher probability of being detected (i.e. increased costs of staying), have longer approach distances, independent of other environmental variables. As predicted, old brightly coloured males had significantly longer approach and flight distances than young dull males, and young males had longer ones than females. In contrast, neither the distance to the nearest refuge nor the air temperature when the lizards escaped were significantly different. In addition, although male and female lizards differed in their use of microhabitats, old and young males did not differ. We also found that old males guarding a female (i.e. increased costs of fleeing) had shorter approach distances than old males that were found alone.