Animal communication relies on conspicuous signals and compatible signal perception abilities. Good signal perception abilities are particularly important for polymorphic animals where mate choice can be a challenge. Behavioral studies suggest that polymorphic damselflies use their varying body colorations and/or color patterns as communication signal for mate choice and to control mating frequencies. However, solid evidence for this hypothesis combining physiological with spectral and behavioral data is scarce. We investigated this question in the Australian common blue tail damselfly, Ischnura heterosticta, which has pronounced female-limited polymorphism: andromorphs have a male-like blue coloration and gynomorphs display green/grey colors. We measured body color reflectance and investigated the visual capacities of each morph, showing that I. heterosticta have at least three types of photoreceptors sensitive to UV, blue, and green wavelength, and that this visual perception ability enables them to detect the spectral properties of the color signals emitted from the various color morphs in both males and females. We further demonstrate that different color morphs can be discriminated against each other and the vegetation based on color contrast. Finally, these findings were supported by field observations of natural mating pairs showing that mating partners are indeed chosen based on their body coloration. Our study provides the first comprehensive evidence for the function of body coloration on mate choice in polymorphic damselflies.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)