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Abstract

When an individual faces the risk of a conflict, its ability to make ‘correct’ decisions is crucial to its fitness. Research on decision making has focused mainly on visual and acoustic signals, while chemical signals have received much less attention, despite their relevance for many species. Chemosignals can be detected in the absence of the signaller and, in the context of fighting risk, this property confers the advantage that the receiver can avoid agonistic interactions or, if they are unavoidable, that it can prepare itself for the conflict. I studied the behaviour of males of the lizard Liolaemus monticola in the laboratory when they were confronted with chemosignals of a potential opponent. During this ‘pre-confrontation’ stage, I tested the following predictions: (1) lizards can derive precise information from chemosignals of conspecifics, and use this to respond with precision to the perceived risk and (2) the best predictor of the receiver behaviour, and therefore the best predictor of the risk involved in the fight, is the relative fighting ability of opponents. As a measure of fighting ability, I used body size. ‘Intruders’ were placed in the terrarium of unfamiliar ‘residents’ during the absence of the latter, and their behaviours were recorded. Simple regressions were performed between the different behavioural variables and with the body sizes of intruder and resident, and with the relative difference in body sizes of opponents. The latter was the best predictor of intruder behaviour: it was negatively correlated with behaviours associated with activity (i.e. motion time), chemoexploration (i.e. number of tongue flicks) and behaviours associated with social interactions (i.e. head bobs). These results suggest that males can process information from chemosignals and decisions made during the ‘pre-confrontation’ stage are based on the assessment of the relative fighting abilities (i.e. relative body size) of opponents.