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Anim Behav. 2001 Jan;61(1):205-216.

Can receiver psychology explain the evolution of aposematism?

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Liverpool Hope University College


The evolution of aposematism is difficult to explain because: (1) new aposematic morphs will be relatively rare and thus risk extinction during predator education; and (2) aposematic morphs lack the protection of crypsis, and thus appear to invite attacks. I describe a simple method for evaluating whether rare aposematic morphs may be selectively advantaged by their effects on predator psychologies. Using a simulated virtual predator, I consider the advantages that might accrue to dispersed and aggregated morphs if aposematic prey can cause neophobic avoidance, accelerate avoidance learning and decelerate predator forgetting. Simulations show that aposematism is very hard to explain unless there are particular combinations of ecological and psychological factors. If prey are dispersed throughout a locality then aposematism will be favoured only if (1) there is neophobia, learning effects and forgetting or if (2) there are learning effects and warning signals reduce forgetting rates. However, the best scenario for aposematic advantage involves learning rates, forgetting and neophobia when prey are aggregated. Prey aggregation has two important effects. First, it is a highly effective way to maximize the per capita benefits of the neophobia. Second, after an attack on a single prey the benefits of learnt aversions will be immediately conferred on the surviving members of an aggregation without the diluting effects of forgetting. Aggregation therefore provides good protection against forgetting. The simulations thus provide new insights into the complexities of aposematic protection and suggest some important directions for empirical work.


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