Protection by association: evidence for aposematic commensalism

Authors

  • LEONI DE WERT,

    Corresponding author
    1. Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, Room 306, Graham Kerr Building, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK
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  • KEVIN MAHON,

    1. Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, Room 306, Graham Kerr Building, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK
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  • GRAEME D. RUXTON

    1. Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, Room 306, Graham Kerr Building, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK
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E-mail: l.de-wert.1@research.gla.ac.uk

Abstract

Aposematism is a well known and widely used strategy for reducing predation by conspicuous signalling of unprofitability. However, the increased conspicuousness could make this strategy costly if there are no secondary defences to back the signal up. This has made the elucidation of the evolutionary mechanisms for aposematism and that of the closely-related Batesian and Mullerian mimicry difficult. The present study aims to test whether cryptic and nondefended prey could reduce their predation risk by grouping with aposematic and defended prey. To do this, we used groups of artificial baits that were either cryptic and palatable or conspicuous and unpalatable, along with the corresponding control treatments. These were then presented in mixed and homogeneous treatment groups within a field setting and the local wild bird assemblage was allowed to select and remove baits at will. The results obtained show that undefended non-aposematic prey can benefit by grouping with aposematic prey, with no evidence that predation rates for aposematic prey were adversely affected by this association. These results provide insights into the evolution of Batesian mimicry. © 2012 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, 106, 81–89.

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