1. Carotenoid-based signals typically vary in both the total concentration of carotenoids deposited and the relative quantities of different constituent carotenoids. Since these constituents often have differing spectral properties, the relative and absolute concentrations of different carotenoids deposited in a signal can significantly affect the spectrum of light reflected. A critical but rarely tested assumption of hypotheses concerning the information content of carotenoid-based signals is that their colour directly reveals the concentration and composition of constituent carotenoids to intended recipients. Most previous studies have attempted to address this question using either photographic techniques or by analysing recorded reflectance spectra, neither of which take into account the specific properties of the receiver’s visual system. \ud 2. Here, we use psychophysical models of the visual system of three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) to estimate their sensitivity to variation in the concentration and relative abundance of constituent carotenoids of males’ carotenoid-based sexual signals. \ud 3. We demonstrate that sticklebacks are acutely sensitive to variation in both the total concentration of carotenoids in the signal and the relative proportion of its constituents, and that the accuracy of these assessments is largely unaffected by the presence or absence of ultraviolet radiation in the illuminant. We discuss these findings in relation to the evolution, maintenance and information content of carotenoid-based sexual signals
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