Agonistic character displacement of genetically based male colour patterns across darters

Rachel L. Moran, Rebecca C. Fuller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Agonistic character displacement (ACD) occurs when selection to avoid maladaptive interspecific aggression leads to the evolution of agonistic signals and/or associated behavioural biases in sympatry. Here, we test for a pattern consistent with ACD in male colour pattern in darters (Percidae: Etheostoma). Male colour pattern has been shown to function in male-male competition rather than female mating preferences in several darter species. Additionally, males bias their aggression towards conspecific over heterospecific males in sympatry but not in allopatry, consistent with divergent ACD in male behavioural biases. We use a common garden approach to show that differences in male colour pattern among four closely related darter species are genetically based. Additionally, we demonstrate that some aspects of male colour pattern exhibit enhanced differences in sympatric compared to allopatric populations of two darter species, consistent with ACD. However, other male colour traits are more similar between species in sympatry compared with allopatry, indicating that not all signal components are under strong divergent selection in sympatry. This study provides evidence that interspecific male-male aggressive interactions alone can promote elaborate male signal evolution both between and within species. We discuss the implications this has for male-driven ACD and cascade ACD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20181248
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1884
StatePublished - Aug 15 2018


  • Agonistic character displacement
  • Colour pattern
  • Interspecific interactions
  • Intrasexual selection
  • Speciation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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