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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Feb 27;364(1516):481-8. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2008.0216.

Defining disruptive coloration and distinguishing its functions.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK.


Disruptive coloration breaks up the shape and destroys the outline of an object, hindering detection. The principle was first suggested approximately a century ago, but, although research has significantly increased, the field remains conceptually unstructured and no unambiguous definition exists. This has resulted in variable use of the term, making it difficult to formulate testable hypotheses that are comparable between studies, slowing down advancement in this field. Related to this, a range of studies do not effectively distinguish between disruption and other forms of camouflage. Here, we give a formal definition of disruptive coloration, reorganize a range of sub-principles involved in camouflage and argue that five in particular are specifically related to disruption: differential blending; maximum disruptive contrast; disruption of surface through false edges; disruptive marginal patterns; and coincident disruptive coloration. We discuss how disruptive coloration can be optimized, how it can relate to other forms of camouflage markings and where future work is particularly needed.

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