, Volume 61, Issue 4, pp 505-511
Date: 05 Oct 2006

Population differences in predation on Batesian mimics in allopatry with their model: selection against mimics is strongest when they are common

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Batesian mimicry evolves when a palatable species, the “mimic,” resembles a dangerous species, the “model,” because both receive protection from predation. Yet, this protection should break down where the model is absent, because predators in such areas would not be under selection to avoid the model. Here, we test this prediction in a coral snake mimicry complex. We exposed plasticine replicas of milk snakes that closely mimic coral snakes to natural predators to determine if good mimetic milk snakes are preferentially attacked in allopatry with their model. Moreover, we evaluated whether attack rates on these replicas varied among three different allopatric regions that differed in the type of mimic found locally (i.e., good mimic, poor mimic, or no mimic). When all three regions were considered together, mimics were not preferentially attacked. When regions were analyzed separately, however, attacks on mimics were significantly greater than randomness only where good mimics were found. These variable levels of predation on good mimics might reflect frequency-dependent (i.e., apostatic) predation. In allopatric regions where good mimics are present, predators might have learned or evolved preferences for conspicuous, palatable prey that they encounter frequently. By contrast, in allopatric regions where good mimics are absent, predators might not have learned or evolved preferences for novel phenotypes. Thus, when predation is frequency-dependent, as long as good mimics are rare, they might not experience elevated levels of predation in allopatry with their model as predicted by the Batesian mimicry hypothesis.

Communicated by P. Weatherhead