Scat on the doorstep: Refuge choice in a group-living lizard is influenced by the presence of scat piles

Shelley A. Thompson, Sarah K. Pearson, Geoffrey M. While, David G. Chapple, Michael G. Gardner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Group living often requires strong levels of communication between individuals. This communication is usually studied in the context of visual or auditory communication. However, chemical communication is the most widely used form of communication. We examined the role of chemical communication in mediating social decisions in a group-living lizard, Egernia stokesii. Specifically, we examined the extent to which scat-piling, a behaviour by which individuals deposit scat in a communal area, affected the refuge choice of individual E. stokesii. To achieve this, we examined individual refuge choice in response to scat piles or single scats and against two types of scat stimuli, one being their own scat and the other being scat belonging to an unrelated and unfamiliar conspecific. We show that lizards behave differently when presented with a scat pile compared with a single scat, and whether the scat stimulus was their own or sourced from an unfamiliar conspecific. When scats were in piles, individuals spent more time inspecting, more time in, and more often chose the treatment refuge as their final refuge choice, at a trial’s end, when the treatment was their own scat compared with when the treatment was the refuge with the unfamiliar scat. In contrast, for individual scat treatments, individuals spent more time inspecting and more often ended up in the treatment refuge with an unfamiliar scat compared with when the treatment was their own scat. These results suggest that individuals are responding to information contained within multiple components of the scats – both their volume and their source. These results have implications for understanding how social aggregations are maintained within squamates, where sociality has evolved independently from other vertebrate lineages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)426-434
Number of pages9
JournalAustral Ecology
Volume45
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020

Keywords

  • chemical cues
  • Egernia stokesii
  • reptile
  • scat
  • social signals
  • sociality

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