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Evolutionary game of rock-paper-scissors may lead to new species
Date:2/18/2010

SANTA CRUZ, CA--New research on lizards supports an old idea about how species can originate. Morphologically distinct types are often found within species, and biologists have speculated that these "morphs" could be the raw material for speciation. What were once different types of individuals within the same population could eventually evolve into separate species.

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, supports this idea. The study documents the disappearance of certain morphs of the side-blotched lizard in some populations. The researchers reported their findings in a paper published this week in the online early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The side-blotched lizard, Uta stansburiana, has three morphs differing in color and mating behavior. Barry Sinervo, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCSC, has studied a population of side-blotched lizards near Los Baos, Calif., for over 20 years. Ammon Corl, now a postdoctoral researcher at Uppsala University in Sweden, led the new study as a graduate student at UCSC and is first author of the paper.

Previous work by Sinervo and his colleagues showed that competition among male side-blotched lizards takes the form of a rock-paper-scissors game in which each mating strategy beats and is beaten by one other strategy. Males with orange throats can take territory from blue-throated males because they have more testosterone and body mass. As a result, orange males control large territories containing many females. Blue-throated males cooperate with each other to defend territories and closely guard females, so they are able to beat the sneaking strategy of yellow-throated males. Yellow-throated males are not territorial, but mimic female behavior and coloration to sneak onto the large territories of orange males to mate with females.

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Contact: Tim Stephens
stephens@ucsc.edu
831-459-2495
University of California - Santa Cruz
Source:Eurekalert

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