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Geographic divergence and colour change in response to visual backgrounds and illumination intensity in bearded dragons

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Animals may improve camouflage by both dynamic colour change and local evolutionary adaptation of colour but we have little understanding of their relative importance in colour-changing species. We tested for differences in colour change in response to background colour and light intensity in two populations of central bearded dragon lizards (Pogona vitticeps) representing the extremes in body coloration and geographical range. We found that bearded dragons change colour in response to various backgrounds and that colour change is affected by illumination intensity. Within-individual colour change was similar in magnitude in the two populations but varied between backgrounds. However, at the endpoints of colour change, each population showed greater similarity to backgrounds that were representative of the local habitat compared with the other population, indicating local adaptation to visual backgrounds. Our results suggest that even in species that change colour, both phenotypic plasticity and geographic divergence of coloration may contribute to improved camouflage.

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