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Keywords:

  • adaptive landscape;
  • aposematic polymorphisms;
  • Dendrobates tinctorius;
  • frequency-dependent selection;
  • predation

Abstract

Aposematic species use brightly coloured signals to warn potential predators of their unpalatability. The function of these signals is largely believed to be frequency-dependent. All else being equal, stabilizing selection is expected to constrain the evolution of novel signals. However, despite the expected frequency-dependant function of aposematic signals, interpopulation variation in aposematic signals is ubiquitous in nature. Here, we used clay models of the poison frog Dendrobates tinctorius to test the nature of selection in regions containing varying frequencies of frogs possessing the local aposematic signal. Our findings support a role for stabilizing selection in maintaining the local signal type in a region of high signal frequency; however, we observe a lack of stabilizing selection at one site coincident with a decrease in the density of frogs possessing the local signal. Spatial variation in local aposematic signal frequencies may facilitate the evolution of novel signal types by altering the adaptive landscape for divergent aposematic phenotypes. Our results provide evidence for spatial variation in the selective regime acting on aposematic signals within an established aposematic system and highlight the need for further study of the nature of selection acting across different spatial scales in diverse aposematic systems.