Friend-or-foe? Behavioural evidence suggests interspecific discrimination leading to low probability of hybridization in two coexisting rock lizard species (Lacertidae, Darevskia)

  • Eduard A. GaloyanEmail author
  • Elena Yu. Tsellarius
  • Marine S. Arakelyan
Original Article


The parthenogenetic rock lizard Darevskia rostombekowi is considered to be the product of hybridization between female Darevskia raddei and male Darevskia portschinskii. These two species coexist within several secondary contact areas; however, no trace of their hybridization has been previously reported. We conducted focal observations of individually marked lizards in 2017 and 2018 to establish if there is behavioural isolation between these species. We demonstrate that individuals distinguish between lizards of the same and different species. Individuals of both studied species interacted regularly, but we found no evidence of males of either species using interspecific interference competition for resources or for females. Neutral reactions prevailed in the reactions of males to the individuals of the different species; aggressive or submissive behaviour was more common towards males of the same species. The differences in reactions of males to females of the same and different species were less clear and interspecific social interactions were almost as common as intraspecific interactions. Interspecific male mating behaviour was rare and unsuccessful; only a single female with heterospecific copulation marks on the body was found. The mating period in both species overlapped broadly in late May and early June; body size (SVL) in females of both species was equal. Hence, we suggest that the selection of the sexual partner and preference of the conspecific partner for the social and sexual contacts is the most plausible explanation of the revealed behavioural asymmetry in intra- and interspecific relationship.

Significance statement

Here, we present the first description of the social and sexual behaviour of two bisexual species of rock lizard belonging to the Darevskia genus. Most works devoted to the study of reticulate evolution in lizards have used genetic and morphological approaches rather than behavioural observations. The study of the proximal mechanisms of evolution is important in understanding how evolution occurs. The results indicate that even in ecologically similar species, social and sexual selection tend towards separation of the species rather than mixing, although they are able to coexist peacefully.


Social behaviour Hybridization Darevskia Reproduction barrier Species recognition 



Many thanks to Alexey Tsellarius, Natella Mirzoyan and two reviewers for their help in the improvement of the present manuscript and valuable critics of the text. We are grateful to Martin Whiting for his valuable suggestions and editing of the present manuscript.


This work was supported by research projects RFBR 17-00-0425, RFBR 17-00-0430 and RFBR 18-54-05020.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

The research was approved by the Armenian Ministry of Nature Protection (N5/22.1/51043). All applicable international, national and institutional (Yerevan State and Moscow State Universities) guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

265_2019_2650_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (58 kb)
Table S1 Copulations of the observed lizards during the study period in 2017 and 2018 (XLSX 57 kb)
265_2019_2650_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (129 kb)
Table S2 Observed interactions of the adult lizards (XLSX 129 kb)
265_2019_2650_MOESM3_ESM.xlsx (47 kb)
Table S3 List of the lizards, marked D. raddei and D. portschinskii in 2017 and 2018 (XLSX 47 kb)
265_2019_2650_MOESM4_ESM.xlsx (50 kb)
Table S4 Body size (SVL) of the marked adult lizards D. raddei and D. portschinskii in 2017 and 2018 (XLSX 49 kb)
265_2019_2650_MOESM6_ESM.mp4 (159.5 mb)
Video S2 Male D. raddei N72 (black/red beads on the tail base) moves from towards male D. raddei (green bead on the tail base). They start ritualised fighting and fall down. Then the male D. portschinskii (N62) jumps to them and observes the fight in several cm without agonistic behaviour. Two males climb the wall and fall down again. Male N72 searches for the enemy and attacks heterospecific male N62, when he goes out from the grass on the wall. This attack is not vigorous and terminates soon (MP4 163,300 kb)
265_2019_2650_MOESM7_ESM.mp4 (224.9 mb)
Video S3 Male D. raddei N18 (two orange beads on the tail base) basking with female D. raddei N22 (black and red beads). Female overcreeps the male and lays nearby (MP4 230,309 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Zoological MuseumLomonosov Moscow State UniversityMoscowRussia
  2. 2.A. N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and EvolutionMoscowRussia
  3. 3.Department of ZoologyYerevan State UniversityYerevanArmenia

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