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Color polymorphism is a driver of diversification

Cite this dataset

Brock, Kinsey; McTavish, Emily Jane; Edwards, Danielle (2021). Color polymorphism is a driver of diversification [Dataset]. Dryad.


Color polymorphism – two or more heritable color phenotypes maintained within a single breeding population – is an extreme type of intra-specific diversity widespread across the tree of life. Color polymorphism is hypothesized to be an engine for speciation, where morph loss or divergence between distinct color morphs within a species results in the rapid evolution of new lineages, and thus, color polymorphic lineages are expected to display elevated diversification rates. Multiple species in the lizard family Lacertidae are color polymorphic, making them an ideal group to investigate the evolutionary history of this trait and its influence on macroevolution. Here, we produce a comprehensive species-level phylogeny of the lizard family Lacertidae to reconstruct the evolutionary history of color polymorphism and test if color polymorphism has been a driver of diversification. Accounting for phylogenetic uncertainty, we estimate an ancient origin of color polymorphism (111 MYA) within the Lacertini tribe (subfamily Lacertinae). Color polymorphism most likely evolved few times in the Lacertidae and has been lost at a much faster rate than gained. Evolutionary transitions to color polymorphism are associated with shifts in increased net diversification rate in this family of lizards. Taken together, our empirical results support long-standing theoretical expectations that color polymorphism is a driver of diversification.



All genetic data were downloaded from GenBank and are publicly available. 


Phenotypic trait data were collected by Kinsey M. Brock and Indiana E. Madden from the literature and photos of lizards publicly available at and