Information content is more important than sensory system or physical distance in guiding the long-term evolutionary relationships between signaling modalities in Sceloporus lizards
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Long-term signal evolution is shaped by a variety of selective pressures including the need to convey additional information or to improve message transfer to specific receivers or through multiple environments. Here, we test the relative importance of information and sensory modality in shaping the long-term evolution of multimodal signals in Sceloporus lizards. To broadcast identity at territorial boundaries, male Sceloporus use both visual motion (headbob) and chemical signals, whereas they use color (blue belly patches) to signal aggression. Using modern phylogenetic comparative methods, we found a negative correlation between evolutionary changes in visual motion (headbobs) and chemical (femoral pore) signals, but only indirect ties between the evolution of color and motion signals (both of which are perceived visually) through viviparity, and no evidence of an evolutionary link between color and chemical signals. We also find a negative correlation between arboreality and chemical signals. Thus, information content (in this case, broadcasting individual identity versus signaling aggression) appears to play a more important role than sensory modality or physical distance in guiding long-term signal evolution. Additional insights into the underlying evolutionary processes are described, illustrating the utility of a phylogenetic approach.