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Abstract

When competing for mates, males of many species use cues from their rivals to evaluate their chances of success. Signaling behavior is a vital component of male–male contests and courtship, and may inform males of a rival's quality or intentions. We used eastern fence lizards (Sceloporus undulatus) to investigate how the time a male spent signaling during mate competition is influenced by his quality, his rival's quality relative to his own, and the value of a contested female. Furthermore, we examined how a male's behavioral response to a competitor's signals would be mediated by his relative quality. We simulated natural encounters by allowing two males to compete over a single female in the laboratory. We measured the time males spent performing two types of displays (pushups and shudders) and categorized male behavioral responses to rival pushup and shudder displays. Time spent signaling was not related to a male's absolute quality (body and head size, condition, and badge sizes), or his quality relative to that of his rival, although males did spend more time performing pushups when competing over females in better condition. Male behavior was also influenced by his rival's signals, such that males of relatively lower quality than their opponents were more likely to aggressively respond to rival pushups and shudders. We discuss these results with respect to the evolution and function of signaling behavior in courtship and male–male contests.