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Keywords:

  • Biston betularia;
  • crypsis;
  • lichen;
  • melanism;
  • predation;
  • ultraviolet

Industrial melanism in Biston betularia is one of the best known examples of the role of natural selection in evolution and has received considerable scrutiny for many years. The rise in frequency of the dark form of the moth (carbonaria) and a decrease in the pale form (typica) was the result of differential predation by birds, the melanic form being more cyptic than typica in industrial areas where the tree bark was darkened by air pollution. One important aspect of early work evaluating the relative crypsis of the forms of B. betularia on tree trunks with different lichen flora was the reliance on human observers. Humans, however, do not have the same visual capabilities as birds. Birds have well-developed ultraviolet (UV) vision, an important component of their colour processing system that affects many aspects of behaviour, including prey detection. We examined the UV characteristics of the two forms of B. betularia and a number of foliose and crustose lichens. In human visible light the speckled form typica appeared cyptic when seen against a background of foliose lichen, whereas the dark form carbonaria was conspicuous. Under UV light the situation was reversed. The foliose lichens absorbed UV and appeared dark as did carbonaria. Typica, however, reflected UV and was conspicuous. Against crustose lichens, typica was less visible than carbonaria in both visible and UV light. These findings are considered in relation to the distribution and recolonization of trees by lichens and the resting behaviour of B. betularia.