Morphological variation in the Cape Dwarf Chameleon (Bradypodion pumilum) as a consequence of spatially explicit habitat structure differences

Hopkins K.P. ; Tolley K.A. (2011)


An organism's phenotype is to some extent influenced by costs and benefits in terms of natural and sexual selection. The intensity of natural selection can in part be driven by habitat structure, which may result in varying levels of crypsis and/or selection on traits related to maximizing performance in that habitat. This may be countered by sexual selection, which can lead to sexual dimorphism in body size and/or the expression of conspicuous ornamentation relating to maximizing reproductive success. The intensity of these forces can also be different between the sexes, resulting in complex patterns of phenotypic variation. With this in mind, we examined morphological variation within the Cape Dwarf Chameleon, Bradypodion pumilum. The species inhabits two geographically disjunct habitat types and, in the present study, we demonstrate that chameleons from the two habitats show morphological differences. Large, conspicuous individuals inhabit closed vegetation, whereas small, drab individuals inhabit open vegetation. However, when morphological traits are size-adjusted, the open vegetation morph displays many traits that are larger for its body size than the closed vegetation morph, especially for characters related to locomotion (limbs) and bite force (head width). Sexual dimorphism is also present, although the degree and number of dimorphic characters was very different between the two morphs, with size-adjusted male-biased dimorphism much more pronounced in the closed morph. Overall, our findings suggest that natural selection in open habitats limits both body size and conspicuous characters, although sexual selection in closed habitats favours the development of ornamentation related to display. © 2011 The Linnean Society of London.

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