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Sensory Discrimination and Its Role in the Evolution of Batesian Mimicry

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The conditions of Batesian mimicry have been simulated in a laboratory experiment in which chickens represented the predators and green-coloured drinking solutions their "prey". The darkest solution represented the model and when it was taken a shock was administered to the bird. Two groups of birds and two levels of shock were used. No shock was given when any of the paler solutions ("the mimics") were drunk. The results are in accord with our previous predictions, derived from a study of the properties of sensory systems. The number of times any solution was drunk was dependent on the shock level always received by the bird when it drank the darkest solution, and was less at the higher shock level. At both shock levels the solutions which were more like solution 10 were taken less frequently. The curvature of the resulting regressions differ at the two shock levels, showing that solutions close to number 10 were less readily distinguished at the high-level shock. Thus, the relative selective advantage gained by a mimic is dependent on the penalty which accrues to the predator when it mistakenly takes the distasteful model which is being mimicked. When the consequences are severe, there is minimal selective advantage in improving mimicry beyond a certain point; however, if the consequences are mild, selective advantage continues to operate until a perfect resemblance is produced.

Affiliations: 1: Departments of Zoology & Genetics, University of Liverpool, England


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