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Proc Biol Sci. 2000 Apr 7;267(1444):725-31.

Testing Müllerian mimicry: an experiment with wild birds.

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  • 1Environmental and Biological Studies, Liverpool Hope University College, UK.


Experiments with wild birds feeding on pastry 'prey' were performed to test competing theories of Müllerian mimicry Conventional theories predict that all resemblances between defended prey will be mutually advantageous and, hence, Müllerian. In contrast, unconventional theories predict that, if there are inequalities in defences between mimetic species, the less well-defended prey may dilute the protection of the better defended species in a quasi-Batesian manner. This unconventional prediction follows from an assumption that birds learn about the edibilities of prey using rules of Pavlovian learning. We report on two experiments, each lasting 40 days, which showed that a moderately defended prey can dilute the protection of a better defended mimic in a quasi-Batesian fashion, but can add protection to a mimic which has the same moderate levels of defence. These results match predictions of unconventional theories of mimicry and go some way to resolving the long-running arguments over the nature of Müllerian mimicry.

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