The evolution of Batesian mimicry was tested experimentally using avian predators. We investigated the effect of a search image on the protection effectiveness of a newly emerged Batesian mimic. The two groups of predators (adult great tits, Parus major) differed in prior experience with prey from which the mimic evolved. The Guyana spotted roach (Blaptica dubia) was used as a palatable prey from which the mimic emerged, and red firebug (Pyrrhocoris apterus) was used as a model. Optical signalization of the insect prey was modified by a paper sticker placed on its back. The cockroaches with the firebug pattern sticker were significantly better protected against tits with no prior experience with cockroaches. The protection of the firebug sticker was equally effective on cockroaches as it was on firebugs. The cockroaches with firebug stickers were not protected against attacks of tits, which were familiar with unmodified cockroaches better than cockroaches with a cockroach sticker. We suppose that pre-trained tits acquired the search image of a cockroach, which helped them to reveal the “fake” Batesian mimic. Such a constraint of Batesian mimicry effectiveness could substantially decrease the probability of evolution of pure Batesian mimic systems.
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