acta ethologica

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 41–46 | Cite as

The effects of perch height, time in residence and distance from opponent on aggressive display in male lizards

  • Louise Osborne
  • Kate D. L. Umbers
  • J. Scott Keogh
Original paper


In antagonistic encounters individuals' displays reflect both the quality of the resource under dispute and their perception of the threat posed by their rival. All else being equal, as the value or threat to contested resources increases, so should an individual's level of aggression. Using a territorial species of Australian agamid lizard, the tawny dragon (Ctenophorus decresii), we tested three hypotheses about the relationship between territory quality and aggression. In three experiments we measured aggression whilst manipulating time in residence, perch height as a measure of territory quality and distance to an opponent's territory. Our measurement of aggression was a summary of behaviours used by tawny dragons in antagonistic displays (wrestling, hind-leg push-up display, chasing, raising of nuchal or vertebral crests, back arching, lateral compression, lowering dewlap, jerky walk and tail flick). Animals had significantly lower aggression scores when the opponent's territory was further away, but time in residence and perch height did not affect our measures of aggression. These experimental results provide good grounding for further tests of these hypotheses in field scenarios specifically manipulating distance between neighbours to determine what maintains the spatial distribution of tawny dragons in the wild.


Lizard Motivation Aggression Individual recognition Agonistic display 



The authors would like to thank Patricia RY Backwell for comments on experimental design and on the manuscript. The Animal Experimentation Ethics Committee of the Australian National University approved the research presented here under Protocol No. F.BTZ.37.01. Collection of animals was conducted within the guidelines of South Australia National Parks and Wildlife Service under permit M24494. Animals were housed under the guidelines of Environment ACT (Australian Capital Territory) under permit K8164. The experiment complies with all current laws in Australia, and approval was successfully sought from all necessary sources.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg and ISPA 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Louise Osborne
    • 1
  • Kate D. L. Umbers
    • 1
  • J. Scott Keogh
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Evolution Ecology and Genetics, Research School of BiologyThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Research School of BiologyThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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