Colour alone matters : no predator generalization among morphs of an aposematic moth
Rönkä, Katja; De Pasqual, Chiara; Mappes, Johanna; Gordon, Swanne; Rojas Zuluaga, Bibiana (2018). Colour alone matters : no predator generalization among morphs of an aposematic moth. Animal Behaviour, 135 (January), 153-163. DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2017.11.015
Published inAnimal Behaviour
DisciplineEkologia ja evoluutiobiologiaBiologisten vuorovaikutusten huippututkimusyksikköEcology and Evolutionary BiologyCenter of Excellence in Biological Interactions Research
© 2017 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.
Local warning colour polymorphism, frequently observed in aposematic organisms, is evolutionarily puzzling. This is because variation in aposematic signals is expected to be selected against due to predators' difficulties associating several signals with a given unprofitable prey. One possible explanation for the existence of such variation is predator generalization, which occurs when predators learn to avoid one form and consequently avoid other sufficiently similar forms, relaxing selection for monomorphic signals. We tested this hypothesis by exposing the three different colour morphs of the aposematic wood tiger moth, Arctia plantaginis, existing in Finland to local wild-caught predators (blue tits, Cyanistes caeruleus). We designed artificial moths that varied only in their hindwing coloration (white, yellow and red) keeping other traits (e.g. wing pattern and size) constant. Thus, if the birds transferred their aversion of one morph to the other two we could infer that their visual appearances are sufficiently similar for predator generalization to take place. We found that, surprisingly, birds showed no preference or aversion for any of the three morphs presented. During the avoidance learning trials, birds learned to avoid the red morph considerably faster than the white or yellow morphs, confirming previous findings on the efficacy of red as a warning signal that facilitates predator learning. Birds did not generalize their learned avoidance of one colour morph to the other two morphs, suggesting that they pay more attention to conspicuous wing coloration than other traits. Our results are in accordance with previous findings that coloration plays a key role during avoidance learning and generalization, which has important implications for the evolution of mimicry. We conclude that, in the case of wood tiger moths, predator generalization is unlikely to explain the unexpected coexistence of different morphs. ...
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Related funder(s)Academy of Finland
Funding program(s)Centre of Excellence, AoF
Additional information about fundingThis study was funded by the Centre of Excellence in Biological Interactions (Academy of Finland, project no. 284666). C.D.P. was funded by the Erasmus Exchange Programme.
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