Skip to main content
No AccessSymposium

Safety in Numbers: How Color Morph Frequency Affects Predation Risk in an Aposematic Moth*

Polymorphic warning signals in aposematic systems are enigmatic because predator learning should favor the most common form, creating positive frequency-dependent survival. However, many populations exhibit variation in warning signals. There are various selective mechanisms that can counter positive frequency-dependent selection and lead to temporal or spatial warning signal diversification. Examining these mechanisms and their effects requires first confirming whether the most common morphs are favored at both local and regional scales. Empirical examples of this are uncommon and often include potentially confounding factors, such as a lack of knowledge of predator identity and behavior. We tested how bird behavior influences the survival of three coexisting morphs of the aposematic wood tiger moth Arctia plantaginis offered to a sympatric predator (great tit Parus major) at different frequencies. We found that although positive frequency-dependent selection is present, its strength is affected by predator characteristics and varying prey profitability. These results highlight the need to understand predator foraging in natural communities with variable prey defenses in order to better examine how behavioral interactions shape evolutionary outcomes.