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Tasting the difference: Do multiple defence chemicals interact in Müllerian mimicry?

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


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Müllerian mimicry, where two unpalatable species share a warning pattern, is classically believed to be a form of mutualism, where the species involved share the cost of predator education. The evolutionary dynamics of Müllerian mimicry have recently become a controversial subject, after mathematical models have shown that if minor alterations are made to assumptions about the way in which predators learn and forget about unpalatable prey, this textbook case of mutualism may not be mutualistic at all. An underlying assumption of these models is that Müllerian mimics possess the same defence chemical. However, some Müllerian mimics are known to possess different defence chemicals. Using domestic chicks as predators and coloured crumbs flavoured with either the same or different unpalatable chemicals as prey, we provide evidence that two defence chemicals can interact to enhance predator learning and memory. This indicates that Müllerian mimics that possess different defence chemicals are better protected than those that share a single defence chemical. These data provide insight into how multiple defence chemicals are perceived by birds, and how they influence the way birds learn and remember warningly coloured prey. They highlight the importance of considering how different toxins in mimicry rings can interact in the evolution and maintenance of Müllerian mimicry and could help to explain the remarkable variation in chemical defences found within and between species. © 2005 The Royal Society.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Skelhorn J, Rowe C

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Year: 2005

Volume: 272

Issue: 1560

Pages: 339-345

ISSN (print): 0962-8436

ISSN (electronic): 1471-2970

Publisher: The Royal Society Publishing


DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2004.2953

PubMed id: 15705561


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