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Keywords:

  • adult sex ratio;
  • coloration;
  • phenotypic plasticity;
  • polymorphism

Abstract

Colouration may either reflect a discrete polymorphism potentially related to life-history strategies, a continuous signal related to individual quality or a combination of both. Recently, Vercken et al. [J. Evol. Biol. (2007) 221] proposed three discrete ventral colour morphs in female common lizards, Lacerta vivipara, and suggested that they reflect alternative reproductive strategies. Here, we provide a quantitative assessment of the phenotypic distribution and determinants of the proposed colour polymorphism. Based on reflectance spectra, we found no evidence for three distinct visual colour classes, but observed continuous variation in colour from pale yellow to orange. Based on a 2-year experiment, we also provide evidence for reversible colour plasticity in response to a manipulation of the adult population sex ratio; yet, a significant portion of the colour variation was invariant throughout an adult female’s life. Our results are thus in agreement with continuous colour variation in adults determined by environmental factors and potentially also by genetic factors.