Determinants of Dominance in the Tree Lizard Urosaurus ornatus: the Relative Importance of Mass, Previous Experience and Coloration


Department of Biology, Box 30001, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM 88003–8001, USA.


A determination of some of the factors that predict the outcome of contests between male tree lizards, Urosaurus ornatus, was made using logistic regression modelling on matched-pair data. Two-day-long encounters were staged between pairs of males differing in size (snout-vent length and mass), previous contest status (previous winners and previous losers), and coloration (dorsal coloration during their previous contest and throat coloration, a fixed trait). Mass proved to be the best single predictor of contest outcome, resulting in an 80% correct classification rate for predicting winners and losers, far better than the less than 57% correct classification rate for snout-vent length. Previous social status (winner or loser) also was a powerful single predictor of contest outcome with a 793% correct classification rate, as was previous dorsal coloration (76.7%). When combined, mass and previous status produced the strongest combination of predictors with a better than 86% correct classification rate. Contrary to several previous studies, which implicated throat coloration as an important status signal of dominance, our results failed to show that throat coloration is a strong predictor of contest outcome. Possible reasons for this discrepancy with earlier findings are discussed. The logistic regression models also allow prediction of the magnitude of difference in mass between two contestants for there to be an equal chance of winning, given a second asymmetry in contest predictors.