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Evolution. 2005 Dec;59(12):2499-508.

Warning displays in spiny animals: one (more) evolutionary route to aposematism.

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  • 1School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 7ZB, United Kingdom.


To date, theoretical or laboratory simulations of aposematic evolution in prey animals have focused narrowly on internally stored chemical defense as the source of unprofitability and ignore aposematic advertisement of physical defenses such as spines (and defensive hairs, claws, etc.). This has occurred even though aposematism in spiny animals has been recognized since the 19th century. In this paper we present the first detailed theoretical consideration of aposematism in spiny animals, focusing on questions of initial evolution, costs of display, and coevolution of displays with defenses. Using an individual-based evolutionary model, we found that spines (or similar physical defenses) can easily evolve without aposematism, but when spines do evolve, aposematic displays can also easily evolve if they help to make the prey animal distinctive and if they draw attention to the physical threat. When aposematic displays evolve, they cause reduced investment in costly spines, so that, in addition to signaling unprofitability, aposematic display may enhance the cost-effectiveness of antipredator defenses (one exception to this conclusion is if the display is itself as costly as the defense). For animals with stinging spines, combining physical and chemical defense, the evolution of aposematic display may lead to reduced investment in the toxin compared to the spine. This occurs because spines act as both secondary (repellent) defenses and as primary defenses (their own visible, honest advertisement), whereas internally stored toxins only (generally) act as repellent secondary defenses. We argue that conspicuous aposematism in spines functions as an attention-getting mechanism, whereas conspicuous aposematic display in purely toxic animals may be explained by signal reliability arguments. Finally, one (more) route by which aposematism may initially evolve is by spiny rather than purely chemically defended species, spreading to species with other forms of secondary defense as the signal becomes common.

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