Functional and ecological relevance of intraspecific variation in body size and shape in the lizard Podarcis melisellensis (Lacertidae)




Within populations, individual animals may vary considerably in morphology and ecology. The degree to which variation in morphology is related to ecological variation within a population remains largely unexplored. We investigated whether variation in body size and shape among sexes and age classes of the lizard Podarcis melisellensis translates in differential whole-animal performance (sprint speed, bite force), escape and prey attack behaviour in the field, microhabitat use and diet. Male and female adult lizards differed significantly in body size and head and limb proportions. These morphological differences were reflected in differences in bite strength, but not in sprint speed. Accordingly, field measurements of escape behaviour and prey attack speed did not differ between the sexes, but males ate larger, harder and faster prey than females. In addition to differences in body size, juveniles diverged from adults in relative limb and head dimensions. These shape differences may explain the relatively high sprint and bite capacities of juvenile lizards. Ontogenetic variation in morphology and performance is strongly reflected in the behaviour and ecology in the field, with juveniles differing from adults in aspects of their microhabitat use, escape behaviour and diet. © 2008 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2008, 94, 251–264.