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Diving behavior in semi-aquatic Anolis lizards results in heat loss with sex-specific cooling tolerance

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Males and females often differ in use of antipredator behaviors, particularly when antipredator behavior comes at the cost of missed mating opportunities or territory defense. When using thermally suboptimal refugia, ectotherms are especially vulnerable to these costs, as their performance is linked to body temperature. To flee from predators, semi-aquatic Anolis lizards dive underwater for long periods and rebreathe from a bubble of air. We hypothesized that using aquatic refugia would result in body heat loss, that dive duration is influenced by sex, and that oxygen consumption when diving would help explain sex differences. We tested these hypotheses by measuring dive length and body temperatures in A. aquaticus, and by recording oxygen consumption and final oxygen partial pressure during controlled dives in several semi-aquatic Anolis species. Not only was there a significant thermal cost to diving, but A. aquaticus males and females appeared to tolerate different levels of this cost: males re-emerged from water more quickly and at higher body temperatures than did females. Body temperature decreased according to an exponential decay function, dropping up to 6 °C in 5 min. Oxygen consumption rates in semi-aquatic anoles were primarily explained by the expected allometric scaling relationship with mass and, therefore, are unlikely to lead to sex differences in physiological limits to dive times. Instead, shorter male dives may help them maintain physiological performance, mating opportunities or territory defense. Antipredator diving behavior is physiologically costly but undoubtedly beneficial to both sexes, highlighting the need for further study of sex-based antipredator optimization.

Significance statement

To avoid predators, semi-aquatic Anolis lizards can dive underwater and remain there for an extended time by rebreathing a bubble of air over their heads. In this study, we reveal that diving to escape predators also comes with a cost: submersion in water reduces lizard body temperatures. Reduced body temperature can impair a lizard’s ability to move quickly and defend mates or territories, suggesting that there may be divergent diving behaviors in males and females. Our findings confirm that males do indeed spend less time underwater than females. We measured oxygen consumption during dives, and our data suggest that sex differences in diving behavior are unrelated to oxygen use. This study sheds light on the sex-specific balance of antipredator behaviors and the maintenance of optimal body temperatures, and more broadly contributes insight into adaptive responses to environmental challenges.

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All data are freely available from the Binghamton ORB repository,


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We thank R. Quirós Flores, S. Walter, and the Organization for Tropical Studies for logistical support and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions.


This work was supported by an NSERC Discovery Grant (RGPIN-2015-04334) to D.L. Mahler; a NSERC CGS M Grant, and a National Geographic Young Explorer Grant (WW-104ER-17) and Sigma Xi Grant in Aid of Research to CKB; and an Animal Behavior Society Grant, and ASIH Gaige Fund Award, and a Chicago Herpetological Society Grant to AMM.

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Correspondence to Lindsey Swierk.

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All applicable national and institutional guidelines for the use of animals were followed.

This study was approved by animal ethics committees at Binghamton University (IACUC protocols #817-19 and #874-22) and University of Toronto (LACC protocol #20011469). Research permits were obtained from the Ministry of the Environment and Energy, Costa Rica (SINAC-CUS-PI-R-049-2017, R-SINAC-PNI-ACLAP-022-2019, SINAC-ACC-PI-R-064-2019, R-SINAC-PNI-ACLAP-022-2021, and R-SINAC-PNI-ACLAP-003-2022) and Autorización de Recolección en Parques Nacionales Naturales, Colombia (permit #009 de 2017). Mexican fieldwork was conducted on private property with the permission of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

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Martin, A.M., Boccia, C.K. & Swierk, L. Diving behavior in semi-aquatic Anolis lizards results in heat loss with sex-specific cooling tolerance. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 78, 33 (2024).

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