Linking the evolution and form of warning coloration in nature

Martin Stevens, Graeme D. Ruxton

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

205 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Many animals are toxic or unpalatable and signal this to predators with warning signals (aposematism). Aposematic appearance has long been a classical system to study predator-prey interactions, communication and signalling, and animal behaviour and learning. The area has received considerable empirical and theoretical investigation. However, most research has centred on understanding the initial evolution of aposematism, despite the fact that these studies often tell us little about the form and diversity of real warning signals in nature. In contrast, less attention has been given to the mechanistic basis of aposematic markings; that is, 'what makes an effective warning signal?', and the efficacy of warning signals has been neglected. Furthermore, unlike other areas of adaptive coloration research (such as camouflage and mate choice), studies of warning coloration have often been slow to address predator vision and psychology. Here, we review the current understanding of warning signal form, with an aim to comprehend the diversity of warning signals in nature. We present hypotheses and suggestions for future work regarding our current understanding of several inter-related questions covering the form of warning signals and their relationship with predator vision, learning, and links to broader issues in evolutionary ecology such as mate choice and speciation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-426
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume279
Issue number1728
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2012

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