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Increased predation of nutrient-enriched aposematic prey

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



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Aposematic prey use conspicuous warning signals to advertise their toxicity to predators (see Fig. 1a) [1]. Naïve predators readily learn to associate this warning coloration with toxicity and reduce their attacks on aposematic prey [2]. However, predators do not exclude these prey from their diets and frequently eat aposematic prey that they know to contain toxins [3, 4]. These ‘educated’ predators are thought to be trading-off the benefits of obtaining nutrients from prey with the costs of ingesting toxins. Despite the idea of nutrient-toxin trade-offs having been around for more than 100 years [5], there is still no evidence that the nutritional content of aposematic prey affects predators’ decisions to eat them. Furthermore theoretical approaches to understanding the evolution of aposematism and mimicry (where two species share the same warning coloration; see Fig. 1a) almost invariably fail to consider how the mortality of defended prey is influenced by their nutritional value. Here we show that the number of toxic prey items that predators are prepared to eat increases with the protein content of prey: this has significant wide-ranging implications for the study of prey defences.

Publication metadata

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

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Year: 2014

Volume: 281

Issue: 1781

Print publication date: 05/03/2014

Acceptance date: 06/02/2014

Date deposited: 24/03/2014

ISSN (print): 0962-8452

ISSN (electronic): 1471-2954

Publisher: The Royal Society


DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2013.3255


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Funder referenceFunder name
BB/G00188X/1Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)