The role of colour and odour in fruit selection by diurnal, endemic skinks (Oligosoma) in Aotearoa / New Zealand
Marshall, Jane Elizabeth
The flora of Aotearoa/ New Zealand has evolved in association with birds and lizards as the dominant frugivores and seed dispersers. There is a wide range of ripe fruit colours within the native fleshy-fruited plants spanning the visible light spectrum from red to violet, with the notable exception of green. The evolution of fleshy-fruit and fruiting related trait, may be a result of the selection pressures exerted by different frugivore guilds. This study was conducted to ascertain if endemic diurnal lizards, Oligosoma species (Scincidae: Lacertilia), display features associated with visual based foraging, colour sensitivity and colour preferences, which are necessary conditions to infer a co-evolutionary mutualism between fleshy-fruited plant species and lizards as seed dispersers, which may have influenced the evolution of fruit colour. Many lizards have exceptional colour vision, with the ability to see a wide range of the visual light spectrum from short wave ultra violet to long wave red. They are able to discriminate all aspects of colour: hue, brightness and saturation. Fruit colour within Coprosma (Rubiaceae), is extremely variable, between and within species. The study of fruit colour preferences within this genus and particularly within species with polymorphic fruit colour provides a valuable comparison of frugivore preference to fruit with little inter and intraspecific variation, therefore minimising potentially confounding factors due to phylogeny. Fruit-colour choice experiments were conducted offering fruit from two colour categories based on postulated frugivore preferences; red and red orange fruit has been associated with avian frugivores whilst white and pale fruit has been associated with lizard frugivory in New Zealand. Experiments were conducted both ex-situ, in environmentally controlled laboratories and in-situ at Macraes Flat, Otago. Pilot trials indicated that the background colour on which fruit were presented was important in fruit choice and consequentially, all fruit were offered on a background which provided contrast to both fruit colour categories. The laboratory trials showed some weak evidence for a preference of white and pale blue fruit however, in-situ trials showed a strong preference for white over red fruit. Field studies were conducted to ascertain the composition of fleshy-fruit in the diets of lizards and the results were consistent with those expected for a generalist omnivore; many of the small fruits available to lizards were consumed however, the results indicated that plant abundance does not adequately explain fruit consumption at this field site. A preference index showed that white and pale fruited plants, Melicytus alpinus and Coprosma spp., were preferred over more abundant orange and red fruited plants. Fruit odour was investigated to determine if fruit choice was mediated primarily by visual cues as opposed to odour cues. Fruit choice trials with the fruit concealed from view indicated that fruit choice was based primarily on visual cues in Oligosoma skinks. It is concluded that lizards demonstrate the necessary conditions to infer that as frugivores, they may have influenced the evolution of fruit colour and that within the open habitats of Aotearoa/ New Zealand, the shrubs, particularly the divaricate shrubs may have provided sufficient environmental conditions to establish a mutualism between plants and lizards resulting in the evolution of small, white and other low chroma fruits.
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Department of Botany
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: skinks; New Zealand; feeding and feeds; fruit; color; flavor and odor
Research Type: Thesis