Anoline lizards communicate with visual displays in which they open and close a colourful throat fan called the dewlap. We used a visual fixation reflex as an assay to test the effects of stimulus versus background chromatic and brightness contrast on the probability of detecting a moving coloured (i.e. dewlap-like) stimulus in Anolis cristatellus. The probability of stimulus detection depended on two additive visual-system channels, one responding to brightness contrast and one responding to chromatic contrast, independent of brightness. The brightness channel was influenced only by wavelengths longer than 450nm and probably received input only from middle- and/or long-wavelength photoreceptors. The chromatic contrast channel appeared to receive input from three, or possibly four, different classes of cone in the anoline retina, including one with peak sensitivity in the ultraviolet. We developed a multi-linear regression equation that described most of the results of this study to a reasonable degree of accuracy. In the future, this equation could be used to predict the relative visibility of different-coloured stimuli in different habitat light conditions, which should be very useful for testing hypotheses that attempt to relate habitat light conditions and visual-system response to the evolution of signal design.

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