Changes in predator community structure shifts the efficacy of two warning signals in Arctiid moths
- Polymorphism in warning coloration is puzzling because positive frequency-dependent selection by predators is expected to promote monomorphic warning signals in defended prey.
- We studied predation on the warning-coloured wood tiger moth (Parasemia plantaginis) by using artificial prey resembling white and yellow male colour morphs in five separate populations with different naturally occurring morph frequencies.
- We tested whether predation favours one of the colour morphs over the other and whether that is influenced either by local, natural colour morph frequencies or predator community composition.
- We found that yellow specimens were attacked less than white ones regardless of the local frequency of the morphs indicating frequency-independent selection, but predation did depend on predator community composition: yellows suffered less attacks when Paridae were abundant, whereas whites suffered less attacks when Prunellidae were abundant.
- Our results suggest that spatial heterogeneity in predator community composition can generate a geographical mosaic of selection facilitating the evolution of polymorphic warning signals. This is the first time this mechanism gains experimental support. Altogether, this study sheds light on the evolution of adaptive coloration in heterogeneous environments.