Simulations with Australian dragon lizards suggest movement-based signal effectiveness is dependent on display structure and environmental conditions
Habitat-specific characteristics can affect signal transmission such that different habitats dictate the optimal signal. One way to examine how the environment influences signals is by comparing changes in signal effectiveness in different habitats. Examinations of signal effectiveness between different habitats has helped to explain signal divergence/convergence between populations and species using acoustic and colour signals. Although previous research has provided evidence for local adaptations and signal divergence in many species of lizards, comparative studies in movement-based signals are rare due to technical difficulties in quantifying movements in nature and ethical restrictions in translocating animals between habitats. We demonstrate herein that these issues can be addressed using 3D animations, and compared the relative performance of the displays of four Australian lizard species in the habitats of each species under varying environmental conditions. Our simulations show that habitats differentially affect signal performance, and an interaction between display and habitat structure. Interestingly, our results are consistent with the hypothesis that the signal adapted to the noisier environment does not show an advantage in signal effectiveness, but the noisy habitat was detrimental to the performance of all displays. Our study is one of the first studies for movement-based signals that directly compares signal performance in multiple habitats, and our approach has laid the foundation for future investigations in motion ecology that have been intractable to conventional research methods.