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The relationship between sympatric defended species depends upon predators’ discriminatory behaviour

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Christina Halpin, Dr John Skelhorn, Professor Candy Rowe



Toxic prey species living in the same environment have long been thought to mutually benefit from having the same warning signal by sharing the education of naı¨ve predators. In contrast, ‘saturation theory’ predicts that predators are physiologically limited by the amount of toxin that they can eat in a given time period. Therefore, sympatric species that contain the same toxin should mutually benefit from reduced predation even when they are visually distinct, reducing the benefits to visual mimicry. For the first time, we found that mutualism can occur between unequally defended prey that are visually distinct, although the benefits to each prey type depends on the predators’ abilities and/or motivation to visually discriminate between them. Furthermore, we found that this variability in predatory behaviour had a significant impact on the benefits of mimicry for unequally defended prey. Our results demonstrate that variability in the foraging decisions of predators can have a significant effect on the benefits of shared toxicity and visual mimicry between sympatric species, and highlights the need to consider how predators exert selection pressures on models and mimics over their entire lifetimes.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Halpin CG, Skelhorn J, Rowe C

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: PLoS One

Year: 2012

Volume: 7

Issue: 9

Print publication date: 10/09/2012

Date deposited: 10/12/2012

ISSN (electronic): 1932-6203

Publisher: Public Library of Science


DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0044895


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