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Keywords:

  • Generalization gradient;
  • Müllerian mimicry;
  • peak shift;
  • warning signals

Generalization is at the heart of many aspects of behavioral ecology; for foragers it can be seen as an essential feature of learning about potential prey, because natural populations of prey are unlikely to be perfectly homogenous. Aposematic signals are considered to aid predators in learning to avoid a class of defended prey. Predators do this by generalizing between the appearance of prey they have previously sampled and the appearance of prey they subsequently encounter. Mimicry arises when such generalization occurs between individuals of different species. Our aim here is to explore whether the specific shape of the generalization curve can be expected to be important for theoretical predictions relating to the evolution of aposematism and mimicry. We do this by a reanalysis and development of the models provided in two recent papers. We argue that the shape of the generalization curve, in combination with the nature of genetic and phenotypic variation in prey traits, can have evolutionary significance under certain delineated circumstances. We also demonstrate that the process of gradual evolution of Müllerian mimicry proposed by Fisher is particularly efficient in populations with a rich supply of standing genetic variation in mimetic traits.