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Crypsis in a heterogeneous environment: relationships between changeable polymorphic colour patterns and behaviour in a galaxiid fish


Kit Magellan, Institut d’Ecologia Aquàtica, Universitat de Girona, E-17071 Girona, Spain. E-mail:


1. The ability to achieve optimal camouflage varies between microhabitats in heterogeneous environments, potentially restricting individuals to a single habitat or imposing a compromise on crypsis to match several habitats. However, animals may exhibit morphological and behavioural attributes that enhance crypsis in different habitats.

2. We used an undescribed fish species, Galaxias‘nebula’, to investigate two objectives. First, we examined two potential methods of enhancing crypsis: change in colour pattern and selection of a suitable background. Second, we characterised the colour pattern of this unstudied fish and assessed its capacity for crypsis.

3. No background selection was apparent but the area of dark pigment expressed varied between backgrounds, which may negate the requirement to be choosy about habitats. The capacity to change colour and selection of a background that maximises crypsis are most likely separate, non-mutually exclusive strategies.

4. Galaxias‘nebula’ exhibits polymorphic, non-interchangeable colour patterns that have elements of both background pattern matching and disruptive colouration. This, coupled with habitat characteristics, suggests a combination of generalist and specialist strategies of habitat use. The fish’s camouflage strategy and air-breathing ability may be key to survival under increasing pressure from habitat degradation and invasive predators.