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Too big for his boots: Are social costs keeping condition-dependent status signalling honest in an Australian lizard?



Australian painted dragon lizards Ctenophorus pictus occur in three head colours (red, orange and yellow) that differ in their level of aggression (reds being most aggressive), hormone profile (reds having higher testosterone levels) and in their frequency in our study population over time. They are also polymorphic in bib colour; some males have a bright yellow area under the chin, while others lack this coloured area entirely. We show that red males with a bib are in better body condition than red males that lack a bib. This contrasts sharply to yellow males, in which males with a bib are in poorer condition than yellow males that lack a bib. Our analysis also shows that following exposure to a high percentage of red (more aggressive) neighbours, all males suffer a reduction in body condition, and importantly, males with a bib (regardless of their head colour) suffer a more severe loss of body condition than males that lack a bib. Finally, this condition loss is significantly higher for yellow bibbed males than for red bibbed males, suggesting that the cost of sporting a bib may be higher for them. Orange males showed a non-significant difference in condition between bib morphs. Our analysis also shows that bibbed yellow males (the morph with lower body condition), but no other morph category, declined significantly in their frequency between 2 years.