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The anti-predator function of ‘eyespots’ on camouflaged and conspicuous prey

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Abstract

Animals utilise various strategies to reduce the risk of predation, including camouflage, warning colours and mimicry, and many of these protective signals promote avoidance behaviour in predators. For example, various species possess paired circular ‘eyespots’, which startle or intimidate predators, preventing or halting an attack. However, little is known of how the efficacy of such signals relates to the context in which they are found, and no studies have tested the relative effectiveness of anti-predator signals when on otherwise camouflaged and conspicuous prey. We find that the protective value of conspicuous wing spots, placed on artificial moth-like targets presented to wild birds in the field, is strongly affected by the attributes of the prey ‘animal’ on which they are found. Wing spots reduced predation when on conspicuous prey but were rendered ineffective when on otherwise camouflaged targets, indeed they increased the risk of predation compared to non-marked camouflaged controls. These results demonstrate how different anti-predator strategies may interact, and that protective signals can switch from being beneficial to costly under different contexts.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Innes Cuthill, Graeme Ruxton and three anonymous referees for comments on various versions of this manuscript. M.S. was supported by a Research Fellowship from Girton College, Cambridge, C.L.S. by a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Vacation Scholarship and C.J.H. by an Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour Undergraduate Project Scholarship. M.S. designed the experiment and the stimuli, and M.S. and C.L.S. performed the calibrations. M.S., C.L.S. and C.J.H. performed the experiments. The experiment complies with the current laws of the United Kingdom.

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Correspondence to Martin Stevens.

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Communicated by M. Elgar

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Stevens, M., Stubbins, C.L. & Hardman, C.J. The anti-predator function of ‘eyespots’ on camouflaged and conspicuous prey. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 62, 1787–1793 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-008-0607-3

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