Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 295–300
The mechanisms behind the evolution and maintenance of conspicuous visible polymorphisms comprising tens of morphs present a challenge to evolutionary theory. However, for cryptic forms Endler (Evol. Biol., 11, 1978, 319) conjectured that complex backgrounds facilitate polymorphism because in such habitats there are several ways to resemble the resting surface. We use computer simulation to explore the evolution of cryptic morphs on increasingly complex backgrounds under regimes that include selection for crypsis, apostatic predation and dietary wariness. We show that there is a monotonic increase in the number of morphs evolving in a population as the potential number of cryptic morphs increases. The relationship is very weak with selection for crypsis alone, but much stronger with the addition of apostatic selection. In contrast, when dietary wariness is added to the model the plot of number of morphs maintained, as a function of the potential number of cryptic forms available, is minimized at an intermediate number of cryptic forms, i.e. is V-shaped. These counter-intuitive patterns are robust to varying strengths of apostatic selection and different implementations of dietary wariness, and are more pronounced when predator and prey generation lengths are similar.