, Volume 13, Issue 7-8, pp 807-827

How weird can mimicry get?

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Abstract

Classical mimicry theory distinguishes clearly between the mutualistic resemblance between two or more defended species (muellerian mimicry), and the parasitic resemblance of a palatable species to a defended species (batesian mimicry). Modelling the behaviour of predators, without initially taking ecological complications into account, is a good strategy for exploring whether this division is valid. Two such behavioural models are described: conditioning theory, which simulates changes in motivational attack levels according to the norms of current learning theory; and saturation theory, which considers how a predator may become saturated with a particular toxic compound, and then cease feeding on the prey species that delivers it. This effect is to be clearly distinguished from simple satiation. Most formulations of the conditioning model allow the direction of reinforcement produced by a particular prey to change according the predator's current state of motivation: this leads to the existence of quasi-batesian mimicry, a parasitic mimicry between two species that could both be described as defended. At high densities, two prey species that share a chemical defense will be ‘muellerian mutualists’, mutually protecting each other against predators that have been saturated with the defensive compound. This mutualism may be accompanied by true muellerian mimicry of the colour patterns, or the patterns may be completely different. This can therefore be regarded as a form of mimicry in a non-visual communication channel. Even an apparently palatable prey species may be effectively unavailable to predators if its density is such as to deliver a particular nutrient in excess of the predator's need for a balanced diet. Such a nutrient in effect becomes a toxin, and such an abundant prey species would be partly defended and potentially able to act as the model in a mimicry system. Thus there might be protective mimicry between ‘palatable’ species, and a ‘palatable’ species might even function as the model for a ‘defended’ mimic. These unorthodox kinds of mimicry probably exist transiently during fluctuations of prey populations. It is less likely that these conditions persist for long enough to induce the evolution of mimicry, and the relationships perhaps usually occur when mimicry already exists for other reasons. Mimicry rings may be mutually stabilised by a combination of toxic mutualism and the exchange of species between the rings. Colour polymorphism in a defended species is strictly neutral whenever the population is dense enough to saturate the predator. This, as well as quasi-batesian mimicry, may help to explain the minority of warningly coloured species that are polymorphic.

This revised version was published online in July 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.