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Avian predators attack aposematic prey more forcefully when they are part of an aggregation

Lookup NU author(s): Dr John Skelhorn


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Defended insects often advertise their unprofitability to potential predators using conspicuous aposematic coloration. Many aposematic insects are also gregarious, and it has been suggested that the aggregation of defended prey may have facilitated the evolution of aposematic coloration. Empirical studies have demonstrated that birds are more wary of aggregated aposematic prey, and learn to avoid them more quickly than solitary prey. However, many aposematic insects survive being attacked by birds, and the effect of aggregation on post-attack survival has not previously been investigated. Using domestic chicks as predators and artificially manipulated mealworms as prey, we provide empirical evidence that predators attack aggregated aposematic prey more forcefully than solitary prey, reducing the likelihood of prey surviving an attack. Hence, we suggest that previous works concluding that aggregation was an important pre-requisite for the evolution of aposematism may have overestimated the fitness benefits of aggregation, since aggregated prey may be attacked less but are also less likely to survive an attack. © 2006 The Royal Society.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Skelhorn J, Ruxton GD

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Biology Letters

Year: 2006

Volume: 2

Issue: 4

Pages: 488-490

Print publication date: 22/12/2006

ISSN (print): 1744-9561

ISSN (electronic): 1744-957X

Publisher: The Royal Society Publishing


DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2006.0522

PubMed id: 17148269


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