Christina G. Halpin, John Skelhorn and Candy Rowe
Centre for Behaviour and Evolution, Institute of Neuroscience, Newcastle University, Henry Wellcome Building, Framlington Place, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4HH, UK
Aposematic insects conspicuously advertise their unprofitability to potential predators. However, when these prey initially evolved, they were likely to have been rare and presumably at a greater risk of being detected and killed by naive predators. Both kin and individual selection theories have been used in attempts to explain this apparent paradox, with much of the empirical research supporting kin selection–based theories. Here, we experimentally test how chemical defence levels in prey and avian color biases influence the probability of a rare conspicuous morph having an initial survival advantage. We used newly hatched domestic chicks (Gallus gallus domesticus) foraging on green and purple prey, on a green or purple background, to model the evolutionary scenario of a rare conspicuous morph arising in a population of already defended cryptic prey. Defended prey were produced by spraying them with quinine solution, which the birds readily detect and can learn to avoid. Although attack rates were initially similar for both defended prey types, the chicks only learned to avoid defended prey when they were conspicuous, not when they were cryptic. In addition, defended conspicuous prey were more likely to be rejected on attack than defended cryptic prey, even when first encountered by a predator. These data suggest that there could be a selective advantage for a rare conspicuous morph to arise in a population of cryptic defended prey due to increased avoidance learning and taste-rejection in naive predators. Our findings also suggest that being a non-preferred color and/or highly defended will increase the probability of this evolutionary scenario.
keywords: aposematism, avoidance learning, color bias, predation, receiver psychology, taste-rejection, warning signal.