My latest article, with Jose Andres and Tom Sherratt, has just become available in PLOS ONE:
Conspicuous Coloration in Males of the Damselfly Nehalennia irene (Zygoptera: Coenagrionidae): Do Males Signal Their Unprofitability to Other Males?
In damselflies, sexual colour dimorphism is commonly explained as a consequence of selection on traits that increase male attractiveness to females. However, while many species in the damselfly family Coenagrionidae (Insecta: Odonata) are sexually dimorphic, the males do not engage in displays, and male competition for mates resembles a “scramble”. An alternative explanation for the sexual differences in coloration within these species is that sexual dimorphism has evolved as a sex-related warning signal, with males signalling their uprofitability as mates to other males, thereby avoiding harassment from conspecifics. We evaluated an underlying assumption of the theory that male-male harassment rate is influenced by colour by comparing harassment of males of the species Nehalennia irene that had been painted to make them appear: (i) similar to an unaltered male (blue), (ii) different from a male (orange) and (iii) more similar to a female (black). When caged together we found that blue-painted males experienced significantly lower harassment than black-painted males. When unpainted males were caged with each type of painted male we found that blue-painted males and the unpainted males housed in the same cages experienced lower rates of harassment than males housed in cages where some males were painted black, suggesting that a single, reliable signal of unprofitability may benefit the individuals that carry it. While our results do not in themselves demonstrate that sexual colour dimorphism originally evolved as an intra-specific warning signal, they do show that harassment is influenced by coloration, and that such selection could conceivably maintain male coloration as a warning signal.