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A test of the coevolution theory of autumn colours: colour preference of Rhopalosiphum padi on Prunus padus


  • Marco Archetti,

  • Simon R. Leather

M. Archetti, Département de Biologie, Section Ecologie et Evolution, Université de Fribourg, Chemin du Musée 10, CH-1700 Fribourg, Switzerland ( Present address: Dept of Zoology, Oxford Univ., South Parks Road, Oxford, UK, OX1 3PS. – S. R. Leather, Dept of Biological Sciences, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Ascot, UK, SL5 7PY.


According to the coevolution theory of autumn colours, the bright colours of trees evolved as a warning signal towards parasites colonizing the plant in autumn. We monitored colonization of the aphid Rhopalosiphum padi on individual tress of Prunus padus in autumn and observed a strong preference of aphids for trees with green leaves. This is the first direct observation of a key assumption of the theory, that parasites avoid bright colours. Moreover our observations, compared with previous data gathered on the same species, suggest that aphids colonizing trees with green leaves develop better in spring than aphids colonizing trees with bright autumn colours, which is consistent with the second main assumption of the coevolution theory.