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Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Feb 22;272(1561):431-8.

Aposematism: what should our starting point be?

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School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 7ZB, UK.


The evolution of aposematism is considered to be a major evolutionary problem because if new aposematic forms emerged in defended cryptic populations, they would face the dual problems of rarity and conspicuousness. We argue that this commonly assumed starting point might not have wide validity. We describe a novel evolutionary computer model in which prey evolve secondary defences and become conspicuous by moving widely over a visually heterogeneous habitat. Unless crypsis imposes high opportunity costs (for instance, preventing prey from efficient foraging, thermoregulation and communication), costly secondary defences are not predicted to evolve at all. However, when crypsis imposes opportunity costs, prey evolve secondary defences that facilitate raised behavioural conspicuousness as prey exploit opportunities within their environment. Optimal levels of secondary defence and of behavioural conspicuousness increase with population sizes and the costs imposed by crypsis. When prey are already conspicuous by virtue of their behaviours, the evolution of aposematic appearances (bright coloration, etc.) is much easier to explain because aposematic traits add little further costs of conspicuousness, but can bring large benefits.

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