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Phenotypic plasticity confers multiple fitness benefits to a mimic


Cortesi, F and Feeney, WE and Ferrari, MCO and Waldie, PA and Phillips, GAC and McClure, EC and Skold, HN and Salzburger, W and Marshall, NJ and Cheney, KL, Phenotypic plasticity confers multiple fitness benefits to a mimic, Current Biology, 25, (7) pp. 949-954. ISSN 0960-9822 (2015) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2015 2015 Elsevier Ltd All rights reserved

DOI: doi:10.1016/j.cub.2015.02.013


Animal communication is often deceptive; however, such dishonesty can become ineffective if it is used too often, is used out of context, or is too easy to detect [1, 2, 3]. Mimicry is a common form of deception, and most mimics gain the greatest fitness benefits when they are rare compared to their models [3, 4]. If mimics are encountered too frequently or if their model is absent, avoidance learning of noxious models is disrupted (Batesian mimicry [3]), or receivers become more vigilant and learn to avoid perilous mimics (aggressive mimicry [4]). Mimics can moderate this selective constraint by imperfectly resembling multiple models [5], through polymorphisms [6], or by opportunistically deploying mimetic signals [1, 7]. Here we uncover a novel mechanism to escape the constraints of deceptive signaling: phenotypic plasticity allows mimics to deceive targets using multiple guises. Using a combination of behavioral, cell histological, and molecular methods, we show that a coral reef fish, the dusky dottyback (Pseudochromis fuscus), flexibly adapts its body coloration to mimic differently colored reef fishes and in doing so gains multiple fitness benefits. We find that by matching the color of other reef fish, dottybacks increase their success of predation upon juvenile fish prey and are therefore able to deceive their victims by resembling multiple models. Furthermore, we demonstrate that changing color also increases habitat-associated crypsis that decreases the risk of being detected by predators. Hence, when mimics and models share common selective pressures, flexible imitation of models might inherently confer secondary benefits to mimics. Our results show that phenotypic plasticity can act as a mechanism to ease constraints that are typically associated with deception.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:visual ecology, evolutionary biology, coral reef fish, behavioural ecology
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Zoology
Research Field:Animal neurobiology
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences
UTAS Author:Phillips, GAC (Dr Genevieve Phillips)
ID Code:148102
Year Published:2015
Web of Science® Times Cited:36
Deposited By:Sustainable Marine Research Collaboration
Deposited On:2021-12-03
Last Modified:2022-01-04

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