Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 43, Issue 9, pp 902–910 | Cite as

The Role of Diet in Shaping the Chemical Signal Design of Lacertid Lizards

  • Simon BaeckensEmail author
  • Roberto García-Roa
  • José Martín
  • Raoul Van Damme


Lizards communicate with others via chemical signals, the composition of which may vary among species. Although the selective pressures and constraints affecting chemical signal diversity at the species level remain poorly understood, the possible role of diet has been largely neglected. The chemical signals of many lizards originate from the femoral glands that exude a mixture of semiochemicals, and may be used in a variety of contexts. We analyzed the lipophilic fraction of the glandular secretions of 45 species of lacertid lizard species by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. The proportions of nine major chemical classes (alcohols, aldehydes, fatty acids, furanones, ketones, steroids, terpenoids, tocopherols and waxy esters), the relative contributions of these different classes (‘chemical diversity’), and the total number of different lipophilic compounds (‘chemical richness’) varied greatly among species. We examined whether interspecific differences in these chemical variables could be coupled to interspecific variation in diet using data from the literature. In addition, we compared chemical signal composition among species that almost never, occasionally, or often eat plant material. We found little support for the hypothesis that the chemical profile of a given species’ secretion depends on the type of food consumed. Diet breadth did not correlate with chemical diversity or richness. The amount of plants or ants consumed did not affect the relative contribution of any of the nine major chemical classes to the secretion. Chemical diversity did not differ among lizards with different levels of plant consumption; however, chemical richness was low in species with an exclusive arthropod diet, suggesting that incorporating plants in the diet enables lizards to increase the number of compounds allocated to secretions, likely because a (partly) herbivorous diet allows them to include compounds of plant origin that are unavailable in animal prey. Still, overall, diet appears a relatively poor predictor of interspecific differences in the broad chemical profiles of secretions of lacertid lizards.


Chemical communication Semiochemicals Diet Femoral gland secretions Herbivory Lacertidae Lizards Phylogenetic comparison 



We thank Josie Meaney for linguistic advice, and three anonymous reviewers for significantly improving drafts of this manuscript. Financial support to JM and RGR was provided by the Spanish’s Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad projects MICIIN-CGL2011-24150/BOS and MINECO CGL2014-53523-P. This work was part of SB’s doctoral thesis at the University of Antwerp.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

This work was conducted under permits for Croatia (UP/I-612-07/14-48/111 & UP/I-612-07/14-48/33), The Netherlands (FF/74A/2015/009), Israel (2014/40323), SA Free State Province (S54C-515022511060), SA Eastern Cape Province (CRO 45/15CR & 46/15CR), SA Western Cape Province (0056-AAA041-00093), SA Northern Cape Province (FAUNA 229/2015 & 230/2015) and SA Limpopo Province (0092-MKT001-00004), and was in accordance with University of Antwerp (Belgium) animal welfare standards and protocols (ECD 2014-32). Captures of lizards and sampling procedures were performed under different licenses for the Environmental Agencies of the different Regional Governments of Spain where lizards were studied. All Greek species were collected in accordance with the Hellenic National Legislation (Presidential Decree 67/81).

Supplementary material

10886_2017_884_MOESM1_ESM.docx (169 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 168 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of Functional Morphology, Department of BiologyUniversity of AntwerpWilrijkBelgium
  2. 2.Department of Organismic and Evolutionary BiologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  3. 3.Cavanilles Institute Biodiversity and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ValenciaPaternaSpain
  4. 4.Departamento de Ecología EvolutivaMuseo Nacional de Ciencias NaturalesMadridSpain

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