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Evolution. 2012 Mar;66(3):807-817. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2011.01482.x. Epub 2011 Dec 5.

Feature saltation and the evolution of mimicry.

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Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, 10691 Stockholm, SwedenE-mail: & Marine Biology, Åbo Akademi University, FIN-20520 Turku, FinlandWissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, Wallotstrasse 19, 14193 Berlin, Germany.


In Batesian mimicry, a harmless prey species imitates the warning coloration of an unpalatable model species. A traditional suggestion is that mimicry evolves in a two-step process, in which a large mutation first achieves approximate similarity to the model, after which smaller changes improve the likeness. However, it is not known which aspects of predator psychology cause the initial mutant to be perceived by predators as being similar to the model, leaving open the question of how the crucial first step of mimicry evolution occurs. Using theoretical evolutionary simulations and reconstruction of examples of mimicry evolution, we show that the evolution of Batesian mimicry can be initiated by a mutation that causes prey to acquire a trait that is used by predators as a feature to categorize potential prey as unsuitable. The theory that species gain entry to mimicry through feature saltation allows us to formulate scenarios of the sequence of events during mimicry evolution and to reconstruct an initial mimetic appearance for important examples of Batesian mimicry. Because feature-based categorization by predators entails a qualitative distinction between nonmimics and passable mimics, the theory can explain the occurrence of imperfect mimicry.

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