Intrasexual selection and warning color evolution in an aposematic poison dart frog
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Flamboyant colors are widespread throughout the animal kingdom. While many of these traits arise through sexual selection, bright coloration can also evolve through natural selection. Many aposematic species, for example, use conspicuous warning coloration to communicate their noxiousness to predators. Recent research suggests these signals can also function in the context of mate choice. Studies of warning color evolution can therefore provide new insights into how the interplay of natural and sexual selection impact the trajectory of conspicuous signal evolution. For my dissertation, I investigated the potential for male-male competition to impact the warning color evolution of a species of poison frog. I focused my work on an exceptionally bright and toxic population of the strawberry poison frog (Oophaga pumilio) where males are brighter than females, a classic signature of sexual selection. In Chapter 1, I used theoretical models of predator and frog visual systems to determine which can see the variation in bright warning coloration within this population. I found that birds, the presumed major predator, likely cannot see this variation, indicating that sexual selection can work under the radar of predators in this species. In Chapter 2, I tested the aggressive responses of males using a two-way choice paradigm that manipulated the perceived brightness of stimulus males. I found that males directed more of their behaviors to bright stimulus frogs, and brighter focal frogs more readily approached stimuli and directed more of their attention to the brighter rival. In Chapter 3, I tested the outcomes of dyadic interactions between males of varying brightness and observed male reactions to simulated intruders in their territories. I found that brighter males initiated aggressive interactions with rivals more readily, and brightness asymmetries between males settled interactions in a way that is consistent with classic hypotheses about male sexual signals. In Chapter 4 I sought to describe physiological correlates of male warning color brightness. While male brightness did not co-vary with classic measures of body condition (circulating testosterone and skin carotenoids), it did correlate with toxins sequestered from the diet and thus appears to be a reliable signal of toxicity in this population.