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Keywords:

  • Aposematic coloration;
  • Arctiidae;
  • opposing selection;
  • thermal melanism

Evolution of conspicuous signals may be constrained if animal coloration has nonsignaling as well as signaling functions. In aposematic wood tiger moth (Parasemia plantaginis) larvae, the size of a warning signal (orange patch on black body) varies phenotypically and genetically. Although a large warning signal is favored as an antipredator defense, we hypothesized that thermoregulation may constrain the signal size in colder habitats. To test this hypothesis, we conducted a factorial rearing experiment with two selection lines for larval coloration (small and large signal) and with two temperature manipulations (high and low temperature environment). Temperature constrained the size and brightness of the warning signal. Larvae with a small signal had an advantage in the colder environment, which was demonstrated by a faster development time and growth rate in the low temperature treatment, compared to larvae with a large signal. Interestingly, the larvae with a small signal were found more often on the plant than the ones with a large signal, suggesting higher basking activity of the melanic (small signal) individuals in the low temperature. We conclude that the expression of aposematic display is not only defined by its efficacy against predators; variation in temperature may constrain evolution of a conspicuous warning signal and maintain variation in it.