Capturing and analyzing pattern diversity: an example using the melanistic spotted patterns of leopard geckos.

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Date: Sept. 10, 2021
From: PeerJ(Vol. 9)
Publisher: PeerJ. Ltd.
Document Type: Article
Length: 13,772 words
Lexile Measure: 1480L

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Abstract :

Animal color patterns are widely studied in ecology, evolution, and through mathematical modeling. Patterns may vary among distinct body parts such as the head, trunk or tail. As large amounts of photographic data is becoming more easily available, there is a growing need for general quantitative methods for capturing and analyzing the full complexity and details of pattern variation. Detailed information on variation in color pattern elements is necessary to understand how patterns are produced and established during development, and which evolutionary forces may constrain such a variation. Here, we develop an approach to capture and analyze variation in melanistic color pattern elements in leopard geckos. We use this data to study the variation among different body parts of leopard geckos and to draw inferences about their development. We compare patterns using 14 different indices such as the ratio of melanistic versus total area, the ellipticity of spots, and the size of spots and use these to define a composite distance between two patterns. Pattern presence/absence among the different body parts indicates a clear pathway of pattern establishment from the head to the back legs. Together with weak within-individual correlation between leg patterns and main body patterns, this suggests that pattern establishment in the head and tail may be independent from the rest of the body. We found that patterns vary greatest in size and density of the spots among body parts and individuals, but little in their average shapes. We also found a correlation between the melanistic patterns of the two front legs, as well as the two back legs, and also between the head, tail and trunk, especially for the density and size of the spots, but not their shape or inter-spot distance. Our data collection and analysis approach can be applied to other organisms to study variation in color patterns between body parts and to address questions on pattern formation and establishment in animals.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A674929217